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US markets closed mostly higher; Nasdaq report minor loss

The US markets closed mostly higher on Thursday, following upbeat data on the labor market which may have momentarily offset investor jitters over climbing inflation and rising bond yields. But stocks ended the session well off their intraday highs as financial and health-care shares slid into negative territory in the afternoon. Even though investors are betting on an improving economy, they are demonstrating a heightened sensitivity to the prospect of accelerated inflation, rising interest rates, and higher bond yields ever since a recent reading on wages showed its fastest growth in years. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard tried to tamp down the growing expectations of economists that the US central bank will engineer four quarter-point rate increases this year.

On the economy front, US jobless claims fell by 7,000 to 222,000 in the seven days ended February 17, marking the second lowest level since the end of the 2007-2009 recession. The more stable monthly average of claims declined by 2,250 and stood at 226,000. The number of people already collecting unemployment benefits, known as continuing claims, dropped by 73,000 to 1.88 million. After falling for years, initial jobless claims are now down to levels last seen in the early 1970s. Most firms continue to hire and the unemployment rate is at a 17-year low.

Meanwhile, the Conference Board's leading economic index jumped 1% in January, the fourth straight gain and the biggest monthly rise in three months. Building permits and the financial subcomponents were the main drivers of the strong gain, as 8 of the 10 indicators were positive. The leading indicators reflect an economy with widespread strengths coming from financial conditions, manufacturing, residential construction, and labor markets.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 164.7 points or 0.66 percent to 24,962.48, S&P 500 gained 2.63 points or 0.10 percent to 2,703.96, while Nasdaq was down by 8.142 points or 0.11 percent to 7,210.09.

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