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* Weekly jobless claims decrease more than expected
* EBay, PayPal jump on upbeat quarterly earnings
* Indexes up: Dow 0.9%, S&P 500 0.9%, Nasdaq 0.9% (Updates to afternoon trading)
Feb 4 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were higher on Thursday, extending recent gains after another batch of upbeat earnings and data suggesting the labor market may be stabilizing.
Hopes of further progress on a pandemic-relief package also boosted the market. Democrats in the U.S. Senate were poised on Thursday to take a first step toward the ultimate passage of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal.
The Labor Department’s report showed 779,000 Americans filed new applications for unemployment benefits last week, lower than 812,000 in the prior week, as authorities started to loosen pandemic-related restrictions on businesses.
The government’s closely watched and comprehensive monthly employment report, due on Friday, is also expected to show an addition of 50,000 jobs in January after a sharp drop in December.
“There’s news around the vaccines, the economic data is a little bit better, earnings have been pretty good across the board and there’s still talk of a $1.9 trillion stimulus package. So all of those things are good for Wall Street, and that’s why we’re seeing the market continue to rally,” said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Investment Management in Chicago.
The Dow and S&P 500 were on track for a fourth straight day of gains.
The major indexes have bounced back sharply this week also as a recent buying frenzy driven by social media appeared to stall following a bout of market volatility last week.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 276.65 points, or 0.9%, to 31,000.25, the S&P 500 gained 32.95 points, or 0.86%, to 3,863.12 and the Nasdaq Composite added 119.62 points, or 0.88%, to 13,730.16.
Videogame retailer GameStop Corp fell 36.3%, while cinema operator AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc slipped 20.0% as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that she and financial market regulators needed to “understand deeply” what happened in the recent retail trading frenzy before taking any action.
Stronger-than-expected results so far in the fourth quarter have driven up expectations, and the S&P 500 companies are on track to post earnings growth for the quarter instead of a decline as initially expected.
A pandemic-driven surge in online shopping during the holiday season helped e-commerce firm eBay Inc and payment platform PayPal Holdings Inc top quarterly earnings estimates.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 2.32-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.61-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 22 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 224 new highs and 2 new lows. (Additional reporting by Devik Jain in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and Diane Craft)