* Apple's stock rises, one day after worst drop since 2008
* Broader moves limited by 'fiscal cliff' uncertainty
* Starbucks, H&R Block buoy consumer discretionary names
* Dow up 0.3 pct, S&P 500 up 0.3 pct, Nasdaq up 0.5 pct
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, Dec 6 U.S. stocks closed modestly
higher on Thursday, a day ahead of the key monthly jobs report,
as a rebound in shares of Apple helped boost technology shares.
Traders were reluctant to bet heavily a day before the
Friday release of the November employment report. Just 5.62
billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, shy of the 6.48
billion daily average this year.
Investors are also keeping watch on the "fiscal cliff"
negotiations in Washington to see if lawmakers can reach a deal
to avoid a series of spending cuts and tax hikes beginning in
"Right now we're just drifting, waiting to learn about the
cliff and jobs," said Donald Selkin, chief market strategist at
National Securities in New York. "The only stabilizing factor is
that Apple is higher again, which is lending some support to the
Apple climbed 1.6 percent to $547.24, reversing losses
incurred at the open. The stock was coming off its biggest
one-day drop in four years on Wednesday, which occurred on
concerns about higher capital gains taxes in 2013 and the
company's tablet computer market share.
The S&P technology index was the best performing of
the S&P 500's 10 major sectors, gaining 0.8 percent.
Semiconductor stocks rallied a day after Broadcom
forecast fourth-quarter revenue at the high end of its target
range. Broadcom's stock rose 3.2 percent to $33.36 while the
PHLX semiconductor index rose 1.1 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 39.55 points,
or 0.30 percent, to 13,074.04 at the close. The Standard &
Poor's 500 Index added 4.66 points, or 0.33 percent, to
1,413.94. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 15.57
points, or 0.52 percent, to close at 2,989.27.
Monthly payroll numbers, which will be released by the Labor
Department before the market opens on Friday, are expected to
show a sharp slowdown in jobs growth, though that is largely due
to the impact of Superstorm Sandy, which devastated the U.S.
Northeast in late October and early November. The unemployment
rate is seen holding steady at 7.9 percent.
Broader moves were limited, however, as traders focused on
the "fiscal cliff" debate. About three weeks remain before
higher tax rates would go into effect, which economists worry
would dampen economic growth. Legislators are trying to come up
with a deal to avoid some of the negative effects on the economy
while still reducing the U.S. budget deficit.
While Republican leaders in the U.S. House of
Representatives insist that raising tax rates on the rich is not
negotiable, some GOP lawmakers now see it as inevitable to avoid
the fiscal cliff.
Without action from Congress, tax cuts on capital gains and
dividends will expire at the end of 2012. This has given
investors a reason to sell certain stocks such as Apple that
have done extremely well in recent years.
The CBOE Volatility Index, known as the VIX, rose 0.7
percent, "a reflection of the anxiety people have about the jobs
report and skepticism over the cliff," Selkin said.
An S&P index of consumer discretionary shares gained
0.6 percent, lifted by Starbucks Corp shares' advance
of 5.7 percent to $53.70 after Baird upgraded the stock to
H&R Block climbed 5.1 percent to $18.26 after the
company reported a quarterly loss that was narrower than
Sirius XM Radio shares rose 0.7 percent to $2.79
after its board approved a $2 billion stock repurchase and
declared a special dividend that gave a big payout to its
largest shareholder, Liberty Media. Shares of Liberty
climbed 2.7 percent to $109.24.
Garmin shares jumped 5.7 percent to $41.99 after
Standard & Poor's said it would add the navigation device maker
to the S&P 500 index. Garmin will replace R.R. Donnelley & Sons
after the close of trading on Dec. 11.
Slightly more than 50 percent of the stocks traded on the
New York Stock Exchange closed higher, while the number of
advancing and declining stocks was about even on the Nasdaq.