NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks pushed higher in early trading Thursday after applications for unemployment benefits hit a four-year low and retailers reported better February sales.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 41 points to 12,993 a half hour after the opening bell. That's a gain of 0.3 percent.
In the latest sign of improvement in the job market, the number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest point since March 2008. The four-week average was also the lowest in four years.
Bank stocks rose more than the broader market after a financial markets organization denied requests that investors be paid out billions of dollars in insurance contracts because of Greece's debt restructuring deal. Had the payments been authorized, it could have caused strains on major banks. JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America were among the top gainers in the Dow average.
The S&P 500 index rose 4 points to 1,370. The Nasdaq composite index rose 10 points to 2,977. The Nasdaq briefly topped 3,000 for the first time in more than a decade Wednesday.
The drop in unemployment claims helped pushed Treasury yields up. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury rose to 2.03 percent from 1.99 percent late Wednesday.
The government also reported that consumers earned a little more in January and spent most of the extra money. The Commerce Department said consumer spending increased 0.2 percent in January. Americans' income rose 0.3 percent, the second straight monthly increase.
Costco Wholesale, Target Corp. and other retailers reported better than expected February sales, as more customers showed up to shop.
In other economic news, February auto sales being reported Thursday are expected to hit over 14 million for the second month in a row.
Among stocks making big moves:
— Gap soared 8.4 percent, the most in the S&P 500 index. The clothing retailer said a key sales figure rose 4 percent in February, helped by strong demand for spring clothing at its Banana Republic chain. Analysts had expected Gap Inc.'s same-store sales to drop.
— Kroger gained 2 percent. The grocery store chain said its adjusted earnings beat analysts' expectations and it also raised its full-year earnings forecast.