New York • Stocks moved higher in early trading Thursday after the government reported that the number of people filing for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in three months. Kroger rose after reporting higher sales at its supermarkets.
KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose seven points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,881 in the first half-hour of trading. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 75 points, or 0.4 percent, to 16,425. The Nasdaq composite increased 12 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,370.
FEWER LAYOFFS: The number of people who filed for government unemployment benefits fell by 26,000 last week to 323,000. That was much better than the 337,000 claims economists had expected, according to FactSet, and a sign that fewer people are being laid off.
JOBS REPORT: Investors are looking ahead to Friday, when the government releases its monthly survey of the U.S. job market. Many expect that employers held back on hiring last month because of the severe winter storms that hit much of the country. Economists expect that employers added 145,000 jobs, and that the unemployment rate held steady at 6.6 percent.
UKRAINE: Investors were keeping a close eye on Russia’s military presence in the Ukrainian region of Crimea. The market plunged on Monday, then roared back on Tuesday as the rhetoric between Russia and the West escalated, then eased back. Moscow-backed Crimean officials said Thursday that Crimea would hold a referendum in two weeks to decide whether it should be annexed by Russia. Any flare-up in tensions there would be sure to rattle markets again.
RINGING REGISTERS: Kroger rose $1.47, or 3 percent, to $45.14 after the nation’s largest supermarket chain reported better sales than investors were expecting. The company also operates Ralphs and Fry’s markets.
RETRENCHING: Staples plunged $1.54, or 12 percent, to $11.86 after the office supply chain said it would close 10 percent of its stores because nearly half of its sales are now generated online.