NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks closed modestly higher in light trading Thursday as investors held back on big bets ahead of Friday's jobs report, which is expected to be a big factor in influencing the timing of a Federal Reserve interest rate hike.
Focus on the report was heightened as many investors see it as one of the most import economic indicators due to be released ahead of the Fed's meeting in mid-March.
%VIRTUAL-pullquote-People are anticipating some fireworks tomorrow. That's the best way to describe the waiting today.%"People are anticipating some fireworks tomorrow. That's the best way to describe the waiting today," said Paul Schatz, president and chief investment officer at Heritage Capital in Woodbridge, Connecticut.
The S&P and the Dow had hit records and the Nasdaq surpassed 5,000 at the start of the week after a strong February performance for U.S. stocks, giving additional reason for investors to take a breather Thursday.
European news was some help to U.S. markets but higher-than-expected U.S. jobless claims took "a little bit of the wind out of the sails," said Paul Brigandi, managing director of portfolio management at Direxion Funds in New York.
A separate report showed new orders for U.S. factory goods unexpectedly fell in January for a sixth month, a sign of weakness in the manufacturing sector.
The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 38.82 points, or 0.21 percent, to 18,135.72, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 2.51 points, or 0.12 percent, to 2,101.04 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 15.67 points, or 0.32 percent, to 4,982.81.
Earlier in the day, the European Central Bank raised growth and inflation targets and announced it would start its government bond-buying program of 60 billion euros a month on March 9.
Stocks In the News
AbbVie said it would buy Pharmacyclics for about $21 billion, giving it access to what is expected to be one of the world's top-selling cancer drugs. Pharmacyclics (PCYC) shares jumped 10.3 percent to $254.22 while AbbVie (ABBV) fell 5.7 percent to $56.86.
The news also helped lift other healthcare stocks such as Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX), which closed up 5.8 percent at $126.96. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN) added 3.8 percent to $428.95 and Biogen Idec (BIIB) rose 2.8 percent to $425.60.
About 5.7 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 6.5 billion average for the last five sessions, according to BATS Global Markets.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,660 to 1,371, for a 1.21-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,560 issues rose and 1,154 fell, for a 1.35-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 21 new 52-week highs and 2 new lows; the Nasdaq composite recorded 97 new highs and 42 new lows.
What to watch Friday:
Staples (SPLS), Footlocker (FL) and Tribune Media (TRCO) are scheduled to release quarterly financial results before U.S. markets open.
At 8:30 a.m., the labor Department releases employment data for February, and the Commerce Department releases international trade data for January.
The Federal Reserve releases consumer credit data for January at 3 p.m.
10 Signs You're a Cheapskate
Market Wrap: Wall Street Inches Up Ahead of Key Jobs Report
I understand that you don't want to contribute to landfills. But here's an example where spending more money, rather than less, is a good idea.
Instead of washing and re-using plastic baggies, a more reasonable idea is to spend a little extra money to purchase reusable containers to store your snacks and leftovers.
Plastic baggies are worth just a few cents apiece. The time and water you waste washing and drying them makes the "return on investment" negative.
Do you hoard tiny ketchup packets to bring home and squeeze into your bigger ketchup bottle? If so, you get points for creativity, but not many for frugality.
You're not only wasting time and effort, you're also (arguably) stealing from the restaurant owner. Bite the bullet and just buy a new bottle of ketchup.
Don't. Just don't. It's not worth it for so many reasons.
Each time you re-brew the same grounds, the resulting coffee is weaker, so you're likely to drink twice as much to get the same buzz. And the resulting pots taste kind of nasty. Focus instead on stocking up on whole-bean coffee when it's on sale, or better yet, slowly breaking yourself from your caffeine addiction.
If you don't know what this means, then you're not doing it -- and good for you, because this require loads of effort for a mediocre result. You'll save, at most, about $1 by deferring the purchase of your next bar of soap.
This happened once on the show "Extreme Cheapskates," and the recipient of these featured anniversary "gifts" was not pleased. Show your loved ones you really do love them, and don't do anything that can be described by the phrase: "As seen on 'Extreme Cheapskates.'"
Unless you're a starving college student (and even then, it's iffy), you'll be digging through a literal lot of trash to find a debatable amount of treasure. Stick to curb-browsing for big items on garbage pickup day -- such as wooden furniture or fake Christmas trees -- and stop literally foraging through trashcans for food.
Unless your dishwasher, washing machine and kitchen sink are simultaneously broken, there's no reason to be washing anything in the shower other than your actual self.
You may think you're saving money by washing your clothes in the shower, but in reality, you're actually just running the water twice as long (and repeating this for each outfit you wash). It may be more cost-effective –- and it's certainly more time-effective –- to clean an entire week's worth of clothes in one run through the washing machine.
We're not talking about stealing a bite from your spouse's entrée; we're talking about walking over to recently abandoned tables in restaurants and finishing the plates of total strangers. (This one is another gem from "Extreme Cheapskates.")
This behavior could potentially get you kicked out of a restaurant, which would humiliate your friends and family (and potentially embarrass you). Here's a tip: If money is so tight that you need to swipe food from other people's plates, avoid restaurants and cook at home, instead.
This item on this list might have the greatest chance of feeling familiar.
Hitting up a couple stores to snag sale is fine. But if you're wasting a tank of gas and the better part of an afternoon driving all around town for one item here, one item there, you're wasting both fuel and time that could be spent on more profitable endeavors.
Rather than buying bananas at one store, milk at another and cereal at a third store –- and then repeating this cycle with socks, makeup, cat food, cotton balls and everything else –- buy everything from one or two stores, and use the spare time to work extra hours, start a side business, organize your files, or otherwise achieve something that's a bit more productive.