US stocks open higher; Pharmacyclics jumps on AbbVie $21 billion bid

Markets Associated Press

U.S. stocks opened higher on Thursday, led by gains for utilities and health care companies. Pharmacyclics, a pharmaceutical company that makes cancer drug Imbruvica, surged after AbbVie said it would acquire the company for $21 billion.

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KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose three points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,102 as of 9:51 a.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 39 points, or 0.2 percent, to 18,136. The Nasdaq composite gained 19 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,986.

DRUG BOOST: Pharmacyclics rose $24.37, or 10.6 percent, to $254.76 after AbbVie said it would acquire the company for about $21 billion. It's AbbVie's first attempt at a major deal since walking away from a $55 billion takeover of Shire last fall. AbbVie's stock fell $1.82, or 3 percent, to $58.35.

BRIGHTER EUROPE: European stock markets rose strongly Thursday as European Central Bank upgraded its growth forecast for the eurozone in 2015 to 1.5 percent from 1.0 percent. ECB President Mario Draghi said that the bank's planned 1 trillion-euro ($1.11 trillion) stimulus program will start on March 9. The stimulus is designed to keep long-term interest rates in the markets low to spur growth and get inflation back toward target

EUROPE'S DAY: In Europe, France's CAC-40 rose 0.8 percent while Germany's DAX climbed 0.6 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.4 percent.

HIRING SITUATION: The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose last week to the highest level since May, though the pace of applications remains at a level consistent with steady hiring. Weekly applications rose 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 320,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased 10,250 to 304,750, a six-week high.

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On Friday, investors will watch for the release of February's U.S. nonfarm payrolls figures. Economists surveyed forecast the U.S. added 250,000 jobs last month, according to FactSet.

CHINA TARGET: Earlier in Asia, Chinese markets fell after the communist leaders in China, the world's second-biggest economy, lowered their growth forecast to about 7 percent, down from 7.5 percent last year. The new official benchmark comes after China's economy expanded 7.4 percent in 2014, its slowest pace in nearly a quarter century.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 18 cents to $51.35 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the international benchmark, rose 34 cents at $60.90 in London.

BONDS AND CURRENCIES: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was little changed from Wednesday at 2.11 percent. The euro fell to $1.1027. The dollar rose to 120.05 Japanese yen.