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US markets closed higher on Thursday

The US markets closed higher on Thursday, with the Dow closing at a record for the 24th time in 2017, as gains in the financial sector helped the broader market book modest gains ahead of a roster of corporate results from the US's biggest banks. Thursday trading action came as Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen delivered a second day of testimony on Capitol Hill, reiterating dovish comments that appeared to bolster investor confidence on Wednesday. Yellen told a Senate Banking Committee that the federal-funds rate wouldn't need to rise significantly to get to a neutral policy stance. Yellen added that it would be quite challenging for the United States to reach the 3 percent growth target set by President Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan advocated a go-slow approach to further US interest-rate hikes, saying he wants to see more evidence that inflation is heading back up to the Fed's 2-percent goal. Kaplan said he believes that the US economy will likely grow slightly faster than 2 percent this year, squeezing the remaining slack out of an already tightening labor market and putting upward pressure on inflation. But he struck a more cautious note than Fed Chair Janet Yellen, saying that while he believes recent weak inflation could well be transitory, he is open-minded to the possibility that it is not.

On the economy front, the number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits fell slightly in early July, reflecting an extremely low level of layoffs that has become the norm as an economic recovery stretches into its ninth year. Initial jobless claims in the period running from July 1 to July 8 dropped by 3,000 and stood to a seasonally adjusted 247,000. Initial claims count people who apply for benefits after losing their jobs. New applications for benefits have been under 300,000 for 123 straight weeks, the longest run since the early 1970s. The average of new claims over the past month, which gives a more stable picture of layoff trends, was even lower. The four-week average stood at 245,750, up 2,250 from the prior week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 20.95 points or 0.10 percent to 21,553.09, the Nasdaq added 13.27 points or 0.21 percent to 6,274.44, while S&P 500 edged higher by 4.58 points or 0.19 percent to 2,447.83. 

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