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Traders work the floor at the New York Stock Exchange in New York, Dec. 20, 2012. Analysts expect fourth-quarter earnings for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index to increase 3.28 per cent, said Christine Short, a senior manager at S&P Global Markets Intelligence. That’s an improvement from essentially flat profits in the third quarter.

ANDREW KELLY/REUTERS

North American stocks were higher in midday trading on Thursday, sending the U.S. benchmark index to a fresh five-year high after U.S. jobless claims fell to their lowest level in five years.

Shortly after noon, the S&P 500 was up 6 points or 0.4 per cent, to 1500 – marking its first break above that level since late 2007. The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average was up 88 points or 0.6 per cent, to 13,867. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index rose to 55 points or 0.4 per cent, to 12,849.

The gains are even more remarkable given that Apple Inc. – the biggest-weighted stock within the S&P 500 – suffered a 10.3 per cent decline after reporting disappointing quarterly results on Wednesday evening.

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The iPad and iPhone maker's quarterly sales missed expectations, as did its sales forecast – raising concerns that the technology behemoth might be facing competitive headwinds. Analysts reacted by slashing their target prices on the stock.

However, the economic backdrop continued to point to a sustained recovery. U.S. initial jobless claims for the period ended last week fell to 330,000, the lowest level in five years and well below analyst expectations for 355,000 claims.

Within the S&P 500, consumer discretionary stocks and energy stocks rose 1 per cent each, health care stocks rose 0.8 per cent, and industrials and financials rose 0.7 per cent each. Technology stocks fel 1.2 per cent.

Netflix Inc., the video subscription service, surged an amazing 37.8 per cent after it reported a quarterly profit on Wednesday along with 4 milion new customers.

In Canada, technology stocks rose 2.3 per cent, industrials rose 0.9 per cent, telecom stocks rose 0.8 per cent and energy stocks rose 0.7 per cent.

Agrium Inc. rose 3 per cent after it raised its fourth-quarter earnings estimate to $2 a share from a previous forecast of $1.50 to $1.90 a share. Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. rose 2.5 per cent.

In Europe, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 rose 1.1 per cent and Germany's DAX index rose 0.5 per cent.

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About the Author
Investing Reporter

David Berman has been writing about business and investing since 1995. He has written for a number of magazines, including Canadian Business and MoneySense. He worked at the Financial Post as an investing writer and daily columnist before moving to the Globe and Mail in 2008. More

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