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Stocks extend gains on Greek progress

By Kate Gibson, MarketWatch –

NEW YORK — U.S. stocks closed higher for a third day Thursday, with technology shares up the most, after Greece said it had an austerity deal and jobless claims fell again last week.

“We’ve made some significant moves in a short period of time,” said Michael Gibbs, director of equity strategy at Morgan Keegan.

Bumping up against recent highs, the Dow Jones industrial average on Thursday closed at its highest since May 19, 2008; the S&P 500 index ended at its loftiest level since July 7, 2011; and the Nasdaq composite index ended at its highest close since Dec. 12, 2000.

The rise has come amid “economic news that’s more positive than negative and a growing consensus of less fear about Europe,” added Gibbs.

Heavily influenced by technology shares, the Nasdaq composite in particular was lifted Thursday by Apple Inc., up 3.5 percent to $493.17, a record, after a report said the company would introduce its next-generation iPad tablet in early March. The website AllThingsD said the new tablet was expected to have a quicker processor and better display resolution.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 6.51 points, or 0.1 percent, to 12,890.46. United Technologies Corp. shares gained 2.5 percent following media reports that said the manufacturer was exploring the sale of its pump- and compressor-making unit.

The S&P 500 added 1.99 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,351.95, with technology the best performing and health care hardest hit among its 10 sectors.

The Nasdaq composite climbed 11.37 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,927.23.

Oil prices gained for a third day, with crude futures for March delivery settling at $99.84 a barrel, up $1.13, or 1.1 percent, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Gold also gained, bolstered by the euro’s rise against the dollar and heightening the appeal of the dollar-denominated commodity. Gold futures for April delivery added $9.90 to close at $1,741.20 an ounce on the Comex division of the Nymex.

Treasury prices fell, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year note edging above 2 percent.

In Athens, Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos said the government’s talks with international creditors had “concluded successfully” Thursday morning. “This program accompanies the new loan agreement to finance Greece with 130 billion euros,” he added.

The statement from Papademos came after days of haggling among Greece’s main political parties.

Wall Street might opt to hold its applause on the Greek accord “until it’s officially approved by the finance ministers,” said Chip Cobb, portfolio manager at Bryn Mawr Trust. “How many times have we been down this path and come out with nothing?”

“I do think, although this is a very early step, they will come to their senses and get this thing resolved,” Cobb said.

Wall Street knew Greece was “going to rush a deal through,” said Gibbs at Morgan Keegan. “There are still a lot of moving parts.”

The Labor Department’s count of Americans filing initial claims for jobless benefits dropped by 15,000 last week to 358,000. The four-week moving average fell to 366,250, its lowest since April 2008.

“We’re continuing with that trend of better-than-expected claims,” Gibbs said.

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