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Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange, March 28, 2013 (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange, March 28, 2013 (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

At midday: S&P 500 on its way to record high Add to ...

U.S. stocks were up in midday trading on Thursday, pushing the U.S. benchmark index above its closing peak in 2007.

The S&P 500 was up 3 points or 0.2 per cent, to just below 1566. If it can hold the gains until the end of the day, the index will finish the week at a record high level, eclipsing its previous peak in October 2007. The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average was up 34 points or 0.2 per cent, to 14,560. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index was down 10 points or 0.1 per cent, to 12,689.

The U.S. gains follow a lengthy flirtation, with the S&P 500 approaching a record high on at least three prior occasions – even as the blue-chip Dow has continued to hit successive highs.

The U.S. Labor Department reported that initial jobless claims for the period ended last week rose to 357,000, up 16,000. The four-week moving average also edged higher – but many economists remain convinced that the overall employment landscape in the United States is improving.

The U.S. Commerce Department provided its final reading for economic growth in the fourth quarter. It now believes gross domestic product grew 0.4 per cent at an annual rate, just shy of expectations of 0.5 per cent growth but above the previous estimate of just 0.1 per cent.

Within the S&P 500, the record-high levels were driven primarily by economically defensive stocks. Utilities and health-care stocks were the top performers, with gains of 0.6 per cent each. Consumer staples rose 0.2 per cent.

Some key cyclical areas of the market lagged: Financials slipped 0.2 per cent and technology stocks were flat.

In Canada, utilities and industrials rose 1 per cent each, and energy stocks were relatively flat. However, materials fell 0.7 per cent and financials fell 0.3 per cent.

Research In Motion Ltd. rose 2.1 per cent after it reported a surprise profit in its latest quarterly earnings. It said it earned $98-million (U.S.) or 19 cents a share, ahead of expectations and a notable turnaround from its loss of 24 cents a share last year. The other good news: Overall shipments of smartphones met analysts’ expectations, and it shipped 1 million of its new Z10s. However, the news wasn’t all good: RIM said it lost about 3 million subscribers during the quarter.

Suncor Energy Inc. rose 0.6 per cent after it said on Wednesday that it would scrap its proposed Voyageur oil sands upgrading plant in Alberta, taking a charge of $134-million.

In Europe, the U.K.’s FTSE 100 was up 0.5 per cent and Germany’s DAX index was up 0.1 per cent in late afternoon trading.

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