Stocks End Higher on Data

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The markets posted tepid gains on Thursday on a round of strong jobs data and mixed quarterly earnings. However, the rally lost momentum late in the day on worrisome central bank headlines.

Today's Markets

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 24.5 points, or 0.17%, to 14701, the S&P 500 climbed 6.4 points, or 0.4%, to 1585 and the Nasdaq Composite jumped 20.3 points, or 0.62%, to 3289.

Global trading desks had a deluge of headlines to parse through on Thursday.

The Labor Department said new claims for unemployment benefits fell to 339,000 last week from an upwardly revised 355,000 the week prior. Claims were expected to fall to 351,000 from an initially reported 352,000. The jobs market has been in close focus on Wall Street recently after the March jobs report showed disappointing payroll growth.

Also helping to keep sentiment rosy has been continued speculation that the European Central Bank might cut interest rates to record lows when it meets next week, while a stream of disappointing data might also keep the Federal Reserve's foot firmly on the accelerator.

"Medium-term expectations of easy monetary policy to counter any cyclical slowdown also supported risk appetite," analysts at Barclays wrote to clients Thursday.

However, news reports late in the day suggesting the German Bundesbank objects to the so-called Outright Monetary Transactions the European Central Bank uses to buy sovereign debt and other assets took some steam out of the rally. Fed chief Ben Bernanke also made commentary suggesting the financial system remains "vulnerable."

Meanwhile, several big-name companies reported earnings on the day.

ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) posted first-quarter profits of $2.12 a share, easily beating estimates of $2.05 a share. Revenues of $108.81 billion came in shy of estimates of $119.84 billion. Shares of the world’s biggest publicly-traded energy company traded slightly higher in the pre-market.

3M (NYSE:MMM) posted first-quarter profits of $1.61 a share on sales of $7.6 billion, missing expectations of earnings of $1.65 a share on $7.81 billion in revenues. United Parcel Service (NYSE:UPS) revealed first-quarter earnings of $1.04 a share, topping expectations by three cents. Sales of $13.43 billion came in just slightly shy of estimates of $13.46 billion. (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) are due out after the closing bell in New York.

In commodities, the benchmark U.S. crude oil contract rallied $1.75, or 1.9%, to $93.18 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline surged 2.1% to $2.804 a gallon. Gold soared $40.20, or 2.8%, to $1,464 a troy ounce.