North American stocks moved modestly higher in midday trading on Thursday, as the Dow Jones industrial average headed toward its third straight record-high close.
The Dow was up 44 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 14,340. The broader S&P 500 was up 2 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 1,544 – putting it within 1.4 per cent of its own record high. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index was up 12 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 12,844.
The gains follow an upbeat reading on U.S. initial jobless claims for the period ended last week. Claims fell to 340,000, slightly better than what economists had been expecting. The dip followed an upbeat reading on U.S. private sector payrolls for February, released on Wednesday; and it comes a day before the Labour Department releases its official payrolls numbers on Friday.
In Europe, the European Central Bank held its key interest rate at 0.75 per cent for the eighth straight month, even as it lowered its growth outlook for 2013. The ECB now believes the economy will contract 0.5 per cent, down from a previous estimate for a 0.3 per cent contraction. It also took a different approach to monetary policy, saying that policy will remain "as accommodative as long as needed."
Germany's DAX index rose 0.3 per cent and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 rose 0.2 per cent.
Within the S&P 500, financials showed the biggest gains, rising 0.7 per cent. Technology stocks rose 0.3 per cent and industrials rose 0.2 per cent. Defensive utilities and consumer staples trailed.
Within Canada's benchmark index, energy stocks led the way, rising 1 per cent. Staples rose 0.4 per cent and industrials rose 0.2 per cent. Telecom stocks fell 1.2 per cent, while materials fell 0.2 per cent.
Among key commodities, crude oil rose to $91.19 (U.S.) a barrel, up 76 cents. Gold fell to $1577 an ounce, down $7.