Stocks finish modestly higher

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NEW YORK -- Wall Street finished a quiet session modestly higher Thursday as Wall Street awaited the government's September employment report and hoped it would strike a balance between steady growth and more room for interest rate cuts.

Thursday's economic data, which showed a gain in jobless claims and a drop in factory orders, gave investors little incentive to make any big moves ahead of the payrolls report.

Wall Street appears optimistic that the Labor Department report Friday will indicate a rebound from August and include revisions to that month's dismal numbers. August's job creation report showed a decline in payrolls when economists had predicted a rise, and sent the Dow Jones industrial average down nearly 250 points the day it was released. Since then, the Federal Reserve has lowered a key interest rate and the Dow quickly bounced back to where it was in mid-July, before the credit markets tightened up and caused stocks to fall sharply.

Friday's report is important because this year's relatively stable job market has been an important prop for the U.S. economy, helping to offset the housing slump and sluggish growth.

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow rose 6.26, or 0.04%, to 13,974.31, after shooting to a record high Monday and then giving back a large chunk of its gains Tuesday and Wednesday.

Broader stock indicators were also little changed on the day, which was notable for its low volume and low volatility. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 3.25, or 0.21%, to 1,542.84, and the Nasdaq composite index advanced 4.14, or 0.15%, to 2,733.57.
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