* Three-month low in U.S. jobless claims offers hope for
* Nonfarm payrolls report due Friday; job growth likely
* Staples, Costco shares down after results, weigh on Nasdaq
* Indexes: Dow up 0.4 pct, S&P up 0.3 pct, Nasdaq down 0.1
By Angela Moon
NEW YORK, March 6 U.S. stocks mostly rose on
Thursday, with the S&P 500 hitting a record after
better-than-expected jobless claims data ahead of Friday's all
important nonfarm payrolls report.
Boosting appetite for riskier assets, the European Central
Bank decided not to take any action at its meeting on Thursday
because economic and monetary conditions had not changed enough
to warrant it. The euro hit its highest level against the U.S.
dollar since late December.
Investors' focus shifted to Friday's employment data, due at
8:30 a.m. ET, which is likely to show job growth in the U.S.
picked up enough in February to encourage the Federal Reserve to
continue to scale back its monetary stimulus. But the gain was
likely to be tepid given the unrelentingly harsh winter.
"There isn't much action today in terms of direction and
volume on caution ahead of the jobs report tomorrow," said Ryan
Detrick, analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research in
With less than a hour left in trading, about 4.9 billion
shares traded on U.S. exchanges, according to data from BATS
Global Markets, below the daily average of about 7 billion in
the past month.
The biggest gainers were stocks in basic materials,
financial and industrial sectors, often associated with strong
economic fundamentals. The S&P basic materials index
was up 0.4 percent, the S&P financial index was up 0.8
percent and the S&P industrials index was up 0.5
But the Nasdaq 100 fell 0.2 percent, led lower by
Staples, which lost 15 percent to $11.39. The largest
U.S. office supplies retailer forecast a decline in sales.
Staples also said it would close up to 225 stores in the United
States and Canada by 2015.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 71.49 points or
0.44 percent, to 16,431.67, the S&P 500 gained 4.1 points
or 0.22 percent, to 1,877.91 and the Nasdaq Composite
dropped 5.914 points or 0.14 percent, to 4,352.06.
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.
U.S. President Barack Obama took steps to punish those
involved in threatening Ukraine while European Union leaders
agreed to suspend visa and investment talks with Russia.
An index of Moscow stocks lost more than 2 percent
after the vote in Crimea, but pared the losses and closed down 1
percent. The rouble weakened 0.4 percent versus the U.S.
dollar. A U.S.-traded Russian ETF fell 1.3 percent to
With the S&P 500 at a record and lingering tensions between
Ukraine and Russia, investors turned to the options market for
hedges against a market decline. The S&P 500 climbed to an
all-time intraday high of 1,881.94 earlier in the session.
Put buying in the SPDR S&P 500 ETF continued, with
the weekly $185 and $187 strikes that expire Friday garnering
the most interest as of Wednesday's close, according to
Schaeffer's Investment Research. The ETF was up 0.3 percent at
Costco Wholesale Corp was down 1.8 percent at $114
after the warehouse retailer reported a bigger-than-expected 15
percent fall in quarterly profit as unusually deep discounting
in the holiday shopping season hurt margins.
Weekly applications for U.S. unemployment insurance fell to
323,000, the lowest in three months, a sign of strength in a
labor market that has been hobbled by severe weather. New orders
for U.S. factory goods, however, fell more than expected in
January and shipments also slipped, adding to signs of a recent
slowdown in manufacturing activity.