Wall Street mostly gained on Thursday, with the S&P 500 registering yet another record high, on upbeat jobless claims data and the European Central Bank's move to keep rates unchanged.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 62 points or 0.38%, to end at 16,422. The S&P 500 gained three points or 0.17%, to finish at 1,877. The Nasdaq Composite dropped six points or 0.13%, to close at 4,352.
Shares rose after weekly applications for US unemployment insurance declined to 323,000, the lowest in three months. Another data showed new orders for US factory goods fell more than expected in January and shipments also slipped.
However, investors were cautious ahead of Friday's all-important US nonfarm payrolls report and tensions between Ukraine and Russia. Crimea's parliament voted to join Russia and its Moscow-backed government set a referendum for 10 days' time on the decision in a dramatic escalation of the crisis in the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula.
The European Central Bank kept interest rates unchanged at a record low of 0.25% yesterday, as stronger inflation and economic output reduced the need for officials to take action.
The day's biggest gainers were stocks in basic materials, financial and industrial sectors, often associated with strong economic fundamentals.
Among individual stocks, Yum! Brands Inc. gained 3.3% after Robert W. Baird & Co. raised the stock’s rating. Sangamo Biosciences Inc. surged 17% after the company said its experimental treatment lowered the amount of HIV in some AIDS patients.
Pluristem Therapeutics Inc. climbed 4.2% after getting regulatory approval for manufacturing stem-cell therapy products. In the financial sector, JP Morgan Chase & Co. jumped 1.3%.
On the negative side, Staples (SPLS.O) lost 15.3% after the largest US office supplies retailer forecast a decline in sales. Staples also said it would close up to 225 stores in the US and Canada by 2015.
Costco Wholesale Corp (COST.O) fell 2.8% after the warehouse retailer reported a bigger-than-expected 15% decline in quarterly profit.
In Asia, share gained on Friday in late morning session after US jobless claims declined and the yen held near a five-week low against the dollar.
The MSCI Asia Pacific Index added 0.5% to 139 as of 9:42 a.m. in Hong Kong. Japan’s Topix index climbed 0.8% today as the yen traded at 103.02 per dollar. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index gained 0.3% to a 5 1/2-year high. New Zealand’s NZX 50 Index was little changed at a record. South Korea’s Kospi index rose 0.2%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index was little changed, while the Shanghai Composite Index advanced 0.3%.