Major stock indexes closed slightly higher Thursday, rebounding from a two-day slide as investors looked ahead to the start of the next round of corporate earnings beginning next week.
Traders drew encouragement from the latest economic data, particularly a government report indicating a steep drop in applications for unemployment benefits last week. That appeared to reassure investors that the government will report solid job growth for March.
“There is a little bit of an expectation that the jobs number will come in good,” said JJ Kinahan, TD Ameritrade’s chief strategist. That report is due out Friday, when markets will be closed for Good Friday.
Consumer discretionary stocks were among the biggest risers. The price of oil fell back below $50 a barrel after the U.S., five other world powers and Iran reached an agreement that could soon lift sanctions on Iran and allow the country to export more crude.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 65.06, or 0.4 percent, to 17,763.24. The 30-company index is down 0.3 percent for the year.
The S&P 500 index rose 7.27, or 0.4 percent, to 2,066.96. The index is now up 0.4 percent for the year.
The Nasdaq composite rose 6.71, or 0.1 percent, to 4,886.94. The tech-heavy index is up about 3.2 percent this year.
Thursday’s economic data gave investors more reasons to be optimistic:
▪ The Labor Department said applications for unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to a seasonally adjusted 268,000. The decrease is a sign of a strong job market despite evidence of tepid economic growth in the opening months of 2015. The four-week trend continues to go in the right direction, said Tim Dreiling, senior portfolio manager at U.S. Bank Wealth Management.
▪ New data on factory orders also helped lift the market. The Commerce Department said orders edged up 0.2 percent in February, breaking a six-month losing streak. Excluding volatile transportation orders, factory orders rose 0.8 percent, the most since June.
▪ The Commerce Department said the nation’s trade deficit plunged 16.9 percent to $35.4 billion in February.