Jobless Data Lift Wall Street

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Wall Street kicked off the day in the green after fresh data suggesting the labor market is recovering helped to offset a disappointing reading on U.S. third-quarter economic expansion.

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Today's Markets

As of 9:32 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 20 points, or 0.16%, to 12,126, the S&P 500 gained 2.1 points, or 0.18%, to 1,246 and the Nasdaq Composite rose 5 points, or 0.2%, to 2,583.

The blue chips have rallied more than 413 points, or 3.3%, in the past two days alone and look to extend those gains on Thursday. The U.S. economy is expected to come into the spotlight on the day.

The economy expanded at an annualized pace of 1.8% in the third quarter, according to a report from the Commerce Department, slightly shy of a previous estimate of 2%, and missing economists' expectations. Economists say the downward revision was largely due to a significant change to consumer service spending.

The report is a lagging indicator, however, and economists are already looking to see how headwinds from Europe's debt crisis began affecting the economy toward the end of the year.

"Despite the downward revision ... recent U.S. data indicate that fourth quarter growth has accelerated," Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Global Insight wrote in a reserch note. "However, the stronger growth momentum is unlikely to be sustained through the first half of next year."

Weekly jobless claims fell 4,000 to 364,000 last week, better than the 375,000 economists expected. Claims are now at the lowest level since mid-April 2008. The labor market has been slow to recover from the recession, but has shown signs of improvement.

"It appears the recovery in the labor market is gaining further traction," Troy Davig, an economist at Barclays Capital, wrote in a note to clients. Davig notes the claims reports tend to be volatile, but the recent downward movement appears to be part of a trend and not just weekly volatility.

In fact, the unemployment rate fell beneath the 9% mark in November, and first-time claims for jobless benefits are at the lowest level since 2008.

Later in the morning, Wall Street will receive the final reading the closely watched University of Michigan/Reuters consumer sentiment index for December. Economists say consumers probably became slightly more confident in the economy toward the end of the month. The consumer sector is a key portion of the economy, and therefore consumers often play an outsized role in broader growth figures.

In the foreign exchange market, the euro ticked 0.08% higher to $1.3056, while the greenback fell 0.17% against a basket of six trading partners.

Commodities markets got a modest boost from the weaker U.S. dollar. The benchmark New York crude oil contract rose 52 cents, or 0.53%, to $99.19 a barrel. Wholesale RBOB gasoline climbed 0.12% to $2.6231 a gallon.

Gold was essentially unchanged at $1,614 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets 

European blue chips jumped 1.5%, the English FTSE 100 rallied 1.3% to 5,458 and the German DAX gained 1.3% to 5,866.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 fell 0.77% to 8,395 and the Chinese Hang Seng dropped 0.21% to 5,867.

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