Stocks close mixed after economic reports

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NEW YORK -- Wall Street closed narrowly mixed Thursday as investors traded cautiously ahead of the Labor Department's Friday reading on December employment. Inflation jitters remained high as oil prices set a new trading record above $100.

Investors who sent stocks skidding Wednesday amid economic concerns and rising oil prices initially took some solace in findings released Thursday by payroll company Automatic Data Processing. The ADP report said the economy added 40,000 private sector jobs last month, above the 30,000 forecast of economists polled by Dow Jones Newswires.

Also Thursday, the Labor Department said the number of newly laid off workers seeking unemployment benefits fell last week. But investors were mindful that these weekly readings can be volatile, and the latest reflected unusual factors related to the Christmas holiday. Wall Street has for weeks been holding out for Friday's December jobs snapshot. The Labor Department report should indicate whether the solid job market that existed last year can continue into 2008 and help sustain consumer spending.

Meanwhile, oil set a fresh record of $100.09 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after government figures showed a larger-than-expected decline in crude oil inventories. Analysts said more expensive oil is stirring some concerns about rising prices in general and whether the Federal Reserve would still have room to lower interest rates.

"We are worried about inflation," said Nicholas Raich, director of equity research at National City Private Client Group in Cleveland. "That's probably the biggest risk in 2008."

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 12.76, or 0.10%, to 13,056.72, after moving higher and lower over the course of the session.

Broader stock indicators were mixed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.01, or less than 0.01%, to 1,447.17, and the Nasdaq composite index slipped 6.95, or 0.27%, to 2,602.68.
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