US stocks score modest gains

US stocks scored modest gains in early trade Thursday after fresh jobless claims data pointed to an improving labor market.

Fifty minutes into trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 25.72 points (0.15 percent) to 16,677.52.

The broad-based S&P 500 gained 3.68 (0.19 percent) at 1,950.40, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index rose 6.81 (0.15 percent) to 4,440.93.

The indices added to Wednesday's solid gains, shrugging off a larger-than-expected rise in initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits last week that did not alter the still-improving trend in the volatile weekly data.

New jobless claims, a sign of the pace of layoffs, rose to 311,000 in the week ending August 9, up 21,000 from the prior week, while the four-week moving average added 2,000 claims, the Labor Department said before the markets opened.

"While the latest reading on initial claims was higher than expected, the four-week average has risen only slightly from the eight-year low reached last week," Dean Maki of Barclays Research said in a client note.

"Thus, we still would view the claims data as consistent with a labor market that is improving."

Dow members Wal-Mart Stores and Cisco Systems took a hit from investors after giving disappointing earnings outlooks.

Wal-Mart fell 0.2 percent. The world's largest retailer lowered its 2014 earnings forecast to earnings per share between $4.90 and $5.15, from the prior estimate of $5.10-5.45, citing investments in e-commerce and higher US health care costs than previously anticipated.

For the current quarter, it estimated earnings per share between $1.10 and $1.20, while the consensus estimate was $1.18.

Cisco was the biggest Dow laggard, down 3.0 percent. The computer networking giant reported after the market closed Thursday a 21 percent fall in fiscal fourth-quarter profit that beat expectations. But its projected adjusted earnings per share of between 51 and 53 cents in the current quarter came in below analysts estimate of 53 cents.

Department store chain Kohl's leaped 3.3 percent after reporting slightly better second-quarter profit and said same-store sales turned positive in July.

Bond prices advanced. The yield on the 10-year US Treasury fell to 2.38 percent from 2.41 percent Wednesday, while the 30-year dropped to 3.22 percent from 3.24 percent. Bond prices and yields move inversely.

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