Wall Street edges higher ahead of 3-day break

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NEW YORK -- Wall Street ended a winning, holiday-shortened week with a quiet advance Thursday as investors awaited the release of March employment figures and remained cautiously optimistic after their recent buying streak. The major indexes showed gains each day this week and returned to positive territory for the year.

There was a subdued tone to trading Thursday as investors adjusted portfolios ahead of a three-day weekend; the stock market is closed for Good Friday. Investors were particularly careful because they wouldn't be able to trade on Friday's Labor Department's employment report until the market reopens Monday morning.

There was little reaction to the department's report that first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose to their highest weekly level since March 3, which indicated companies might be struggling to cope with sluggish growth in the national economy.

Thursday marked the Dow's sixth straight advance, its biggest streak of advances since November. The blue chip average spent the first half of Thursday's session in negative territory before moving higher at about midday.

"The market went up on fumes this week," said Philip S. Dow, managing director of equity strategy at RBC Dain Rauscher. "Nobody has any wild expectations to the positive for the jobs report. But, barring some kind of negative report, I still think we'll see the market tread water."

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow rose 30.15, or 0.24%, to 12,560.20.

Broader stock indicators also rose. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 4.39, or 0.31%, to 1,443.76, and the Nasdaq composite index advanced 12.65, or 0.51%, to 2,471.34.

Bonds fell ahead of the employment report; the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 4.68% from 4.65% late Wednesday. The bond market will be open for an abbreviated session Friday.

The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, and sank to two-year lows against the euro ahead of the long weekend and amid concerns about interest rates. Gold prices rose during the session.

Oil prices settled down slightly a day after a modest ease in global political tensions. Prices had advanced in recent weeks in part amid tensions over Iran's now-ended detention of British sailors and marines. Investors are now focused on energy inventories and demand, and sent a barrel of light, sweet crude down 10 cents to $64.28 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

DaimlerChrysler AG shares surged $3.81, or 4.7%, to $84.80 after billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian's Tracinda Corp. approached the German automaker's board about acquiring its Chrysler unit. He has held stakes in Chrysler since the 1990s, and at one point bid to acquire the full company.

The bid also sent shares of General Motors Corp. up 87 cents, or 2.8%, to $31.90. Kerkorian was previously GM's largest individual shareholder, before selling his stake in December.

Micron Technology Inc. pressured technology stocks after the flash memory maker posted disappointing second-quarter results late Wednesday. The company swung to a loss as costs swelled and prices weakened. Shares fell 56 cents, or 4.6%, to $11.51.

Beer and wine maker Constellation Brands Inc. rose 67 cents, or 3.2%, to $21.49 after it reported fourth-quarter profit grew 26%. Strong wine sales helped the company offset a decline in imported beer, and competition in the British market.

Mattress maker Sealy Corp. fell 72 cents, or 4%, to $17.14 after it reported it charged lower prices to maintain sales growth. The company reported first-quarter profit rose 7%.

Dell Inc. reported late Wednesday it will not file its annual report on time, citing delays in completing an internal investigation into its account practices. Shares of the personal computer maker, which has also delayed its second-quarter and third-quarter reports, rose 15 cents to $23.51.

Take Two Interactive Software Inc. fell 18 cents to $21.25 after the video game maker disclosed that a federal probe of stock option practices has turned into a formal regulatory investigation. The Securities and Exchange Commission is now able to subpoena witnesses in its probe, the company said in a regulatory filing late Wednesday.

Barnes & Noble Inc. rose 73 cents to $40.53 after analysts said the book seller likely won't have to restate earnings results after its internal investigation into backdated stock options. The company announced late Wednesday that it found numerous instances of improperly dated option grants, and would need to decrease retained earnings by $22.8 million.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 5 to 3 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.25 billion shares compared with 1.4 billion shares traded Wednesday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 2.56, or 0.32%, at 813.35.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average closed lower by 0.30%. At the close, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.51%, Germany's DAX index advanced 0.37%, and France's CAC-40 added 0.04%.





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