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US stocks move higher on company earnings, labor market news; Energy stocks slide

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Encouraging corporate earnings and labor market data sent U.S. stocks higher in afternoon trading Thursday. The market could snap a two-day losing streak. Energy stocks were among the biggest laggards, as oil prices extended their slide.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average gained 103 points, or 0.6 percent, to 17,295 as of 1:40 p.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose five points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,007. The Nasdaq composite added three points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,641.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 12 cents to $44.34 a barrel in New York. The contract lost $1.78 on Wednesday to close at $44.45, after the Energy Department reported that U.S. oil inventories rose to their highest levels ever recorded.

ECONOMIC BELLWETHER: The U.S. government reported that weekly claims for unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest level in almost 15 years last week, a sign that hiring will likely remain healthy. That supports the Federal Reserve's assessment on Wednesday that the U.S. economy is expanding at a solid pace and generating strong job growth. That bolsters the case for the central bank to raise interest rates from near zero sooner, rather than later, said Doug Cote, chief market strategist for Voya Investment Management.

THE QUOTE: "The market is reacting to the Fed being intent on normalizing interest rate policy, and today's numbers added to that pressure," Cote said.

Higher interest rates tend to make stocks less attractive in comparison to bonds.

SECTOR WATCH: Six of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 rose, and safe-harbor utilities gained the most. Energy stocks were the biggest decliners. The sector is down 6.6 percent this year. Qualcomm notched the biggest drop among stocks in the S&P 500, shedding $7.93, or 11.2 percent, to $63.08. Harman International Industries led among the gainers, rising $18.09, or 18 percent, to $119.11.

HAPPY MEAL: McDonald's stock climbed 4.9 percent following news late Wednesday that CEO Don Thompson is stepping down. The world's biggest hamburger chain has been struggling to hold onto customers amid intensifying competition and changing attitudes about food. The news pushed the stock up $4.34 to $93.12.

ALIBABA ALARM: A scathing report by regulators in China claimed e-commerce giant Alibaba failed to prevent fake goods from being sold on its websites. Further muddying the water was a disclosure that the report was delayed to avoid affecting Alibaba's $25 billion New York stock market listing. Meanwhile, Alibaba reported adjusted fourth-quarter earnings that beat expectations as its user base continued to grow and shoppers bought more on mobile phones. The stock fell $9.15, or 9.3 percent, to $89.30.

PHOTO: Trader Gregory Rowe works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015. U.S. stocks moved higher in early trading Wednesday after very strong earnings from Apple and Boeing. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Trader Gregory Rowe works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015. U.S. stocks moved higher in early trading Wednesday after very strong earnings from Apple and Boeing. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

ALL ABOUT OIL: ConocoPhillips posted a loss for the fourth quarter, hurt by falling oil prices. The company said it will cut spending on drilling and exploration projects in parts of the U.S. Its shares fell 6 cents to $62.52. Valero Energy and Phillips 66 fared better, delivering fourth-quarter earnings that topped Wall Street's expectations. Valero's shares added 41 cents to $51.92, while Phillips gained $1.53, or 2.2 percent, to $69.90.

ROUGH SEAS: Shares in Royal Caribbean Cruises slid 4.8 percent after the cruise operator reported fourth-quarter results and an outlook that missed Wall Street expectations. The stock shed $3.89 to $77.91.

NO DEFENSE: Raytheon delivered a 2015 profit forecast that fell short of Wall Street estimates. Shares in the maker of Tomahawk cruise missile and other weapons and communication systems slid $4.53, or 4.3 percent, to $100.4.

HOMEBUILDER RALLY: Several homebuilders surged after PulteGroup reported that completed home sales increased 7 percent in the October-December quarter. PulteGroup climbed 99 cents, or 4.8 percent, to $21.57.

CRAVING KRAVE: Hershey, maker of Reese's, Kit Kat and Twizzlers, said it has agreed to buy jerky maker Krave Jerky for an undisclosed sum. Shares in Hershey fell $7.99, or 7.4 percent, to $99.69.

OVERSEAS MARKETS: European markets rose. Germany's DAX added 0.3 percent, while France's CAC-40 gained 0.4 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.2 percent.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 118.46 yen from 117.73 yen the previous day. The euro rose to $1.1302 from $1.1286.

BONDS: U.S. government bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.76 percent from 1.72 percent late Wednesday.


AP Business Writer Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo contributed to this story.

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PHOTO: A screen at the Nasdaq MarketSite shows a price for Alibaba stock, in New York, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015. Chinese e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba's Group reported adjusted fourth-quarter earnings that beat expectations as its user base continued to grow and shoppers bought more on mobile phones. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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