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Stock market edges higher after encouraging economic reports offset interest rate concerns

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NEW YORK — The stock market edged higher Thursday as some encouraging news on the economy outweighed investors' concerns that interest rates may start to rise sooner than they had anticipated. Guess slumped after the apparel maker reported lower quarterly income and predicted a loss for the current quarter.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose five points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,865 as of 12:15 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 60 points, or 0.4 percent, to 16,282. The Nasdaq composite climbed six points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,314.

GREEN SHOOTS: A measure of the U.S. economy's health rose in February by the largest amount in three months, suggesting growth will accelerate following a severe winter. The Conference Board said Thursday its index of leading indicators increased 0.5 percent following a slight 0.1 percent rise in January and a 0.1 percent decline in December. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said separately that manufacturing rebounded in that region in March as new orders increased.

THE YELLEN EFFECT: Stocks opened lower as investors mulled comments from Fed Chair Janet Yellen Wednesday that set the stage for a possible interest rate hike by the middle of next year. The Fed also backed away from its previous stance tying interest rates to falling unemployment, which is still hovering at 6.7 percent.

PHOTO: FILE - In this  Friday, March 14, 2014, file photo, trader Steven Kaplan works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Global stocks fell Thursday March 20, 2014 after comments from the new head of the Federal Reserve suggested U.S. interest rates could rise sooner than financial markets were anticipating. (AP Photo/Richard Drew. File)
FILE - In this Friday, March 14, 2014, file photo, trader Steven Kaplan works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Global stocks fell Thursday March 20, 2014 after comments from the new head of the Federal Reserve suggested U.S. interest rates could rise sooner than financial markets were anticipating. (AP Photo/Richard Drew. File)

TASTY EARNINGS: ConAgra Foods rose 13 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $29.72 after the company said its fiscal third-quarter net income nearly doubled as it continues to benefit from the acquisition of private-label food maker Ralcorp.

JOBS PICTURE: The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 5,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 320,000, The Labor Department said. That's close to pre-recession levels and suggests a stable job market.

GUESS-TIMATE: Guess fell $1.42, or 4.9 percent, to $29.72 after the company forecast it would make a loss for the current quarter.

RISING RATES, STRENGTHENING ECONOMY: Higher interest rates could also be seen as a positive, if taken in the context of an improving economy, said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. "The good news is that if interest rates go up, that means that the economy is getting stronger and that favors Corporate America in terms of earnings growth," Cardillo said.

TREASURYS AND COMMODITIES: Bond prices were little changed a day after the Fed announced it would make further reductions to its bond-buying program. The yield on the 10-year government was unchanged from Wednesday at 2.77 percent. The price of crude oil fell 87 cents, or 0.8 percent, to $98.29 a barrel. Gold dropped $10, or 0.8 percent, to $1,331.20 an ounce.

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