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A round of strong data on the labor market pushed the blue-chip average further into uncharted territory Wednesday. The broader markets posted milder gains.
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As of 3:08 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 53.8 points, or 0.38%, to 14307, the S&P 500 rose 3.2 points, or 0.2%, to 1543 and the Nasdaq Composite gained 0.1 point, or 0.00%, to 3224.
After hitting its bear-market low of of 6547.05 in March 2009, the blue-chip average has roared 118% higher and into uncharted territory. The broader, and more closely-watched, S&P 500 still has 1.6% to go before hitting the record high of 1565.15 that it logged in October 2007.
The focus shifted to the U.S. labor market Wednesday. The ADP National Employment Report showed the U.S. private sector added 198,000 jobs in February, more than the 170,000 jobs expected. The jobs market has been perking up in recent months as the broader economy has improved, but it still remains far from normal.
"The job market remains sturdy in the face of significant fiscal headwinds," Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, which compiles the ADP report, said. "Businesses are adding to payrolls more strongly at the start of 2013 with gains across all industries and business sizes."
The all-important monthly jobs report from the Labor Department is on tap for Friday. It is forecast that the economy added 160,000 jobs in February, with the unemployment rate holding steady at 7.9%. Ellen Zentner, an economist at Nomura, said in a note to clients that the strong ADP print adds "upside risk that (Labor's) private payrolls will overshoot the consensus expectation."
Separately, the Commerce Department said factory orders slumped 2% in January from the month before, which came in slightly shallower than estimates of a 2.2% drop. Excluding the transportation segment, orders were up 1.3%.
Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve said the U.S. economy is growing at a “modest to moderate” pace across its 12 districts in its anecdotal Beige Book report. The central bank also said the labor market continued improving in most districts, although hiring plans were “limited” in certain areas.
In commodities, oil priced slipped. The benchmark U.S. contract fell 79 cents, or 0.87%, to $90.03 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline slumped 0.74% to $3.125 a gallon. Gold rose $3.30, or 0.21%, to $1,578 a troy ounce.
In corporate news, the European Union fined Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) $732 million for not offering consumers sufficient choice in Web browsers on its Windows operating system.
Citigroup slashed its rating on J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) to "neutral" from "buy" and cut its price target $7 to $15. Nasdaq OMX Group (NASDAQ:NDAQ) said it would form a joint venture with SharePost to form a marketplace for private companies.
The Euro Stoxx 50 fell 0.12% to 2679, the English FTSE 100 dipped 0.07% to 6428 and the German DAX rose 0.62% to 7919.
In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 surged 2.1% to 11932 and the Chinese Hang Seng jumped 1% to 22778.