Stocks battle higher as jobless claims ease

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U.S. equity markets rallied Thursday after government data showed fewer first-time jobless claims last week than expected, signaling that the country's economic recovery may be strengthening.

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The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite climbed 0.26 percent and 0.66 percent, respectively, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average struggled to maintain gains, rising as much as 7.9 points, or 0.03 percent, before sliding into the red. The early growth placed the tech-heavy Nasdaq, which posted its best five-day start to the second half since 2003, on track for its 26th record-high close this year.

Initial jobless claims for the week ended July 3 totaled 1.314 million, meaning nearly 50 million Americans have filed for first-time unemployment benefits since mid-March, when stay-at-home orders aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 forced non-essential businesses to close. Continuing claims fell to 18.06 million. Wall Street analysts surveyed by Refinitiv were expecting 1.375 million initial claims and 18.95 million continuing claims.

Looking at stocks, tech stalwarts Apple, Amazon and Netflix were in focus a day after hitting fresh highs.

Meanwhile, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the electric-vehicle maker was “very close” to level 5 autonomous driving technology, or the ability for a car to operate without any help from a driver. Shares of the company slipped off their record high on Wednesday.

Elsewhere, Carnival Corp.’s German unit, AIDA Cruises, has begun taking reservations for August sale dates. The cruises, which will sail at reduced capacity, will require passengers to fill out a questionnaire and have their temperature taken before boarding. The news lifted rivals Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.

Bed, Bath & Beyond Inc. will shutter more than 200 stores over the next two years, an action that will save the home-goods retailer about $250 million to $350 million annually.

In earnings, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. lost $1.7 billion as COVID-19 curbed sales by $700 million to $750 million. The drugstore took a $2 billion charge due to weakness in its U.K. business.

West Texas Intermediate crude oil slipped 9 cents to $40.81 per barrel while gold fell $3.10 to $1,817.50 per ounce.

U.S. Treasurys were little changed with the yield on the 10-year note holding at 0.653 percent.

In Europe, Germany’s DAX rose 1.52 percent and France's CAC added 0.33 percent, while Britain’s FTSE fell 0.49 percent.

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China’s Shanghai Composite led the charge higher in Asia, adding 1.38 percent, while Japan’s Nikkei and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng advanced 0.4 percent and 0.31 percent, respectively.

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