US stocks edge higher ahead of February jobs report

Wall Street stocks finished higher Thursday (March 4) on the eve of the February jobs report.
Wall Street stocks finished higher Thursday (March 4) on the eve of the February jobs report. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Wall Street stocks finished higher Thursday following mostly solid US economic data on the eve of the eagerly anticipated February jobs report.

The Dow Jones Industrial advanced 44.58 points (0.26 per cent) to 16,843.90.

The broad-based S&P 500 rose 6.95 (0.35 per cent) to 1,993.40, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index added 4.00 (0.09 per cent) at 4,707.42.

US data releases showed modestly slower services sector activity in February and a modest increase in industrial orders in January.

Initial jobless claims rose slightly last week, but remained at a low level.

“The market has been on hold most of the day, awaiting tomorrow’s unemployment data,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial.

“It’s basically a mixed-to-positive session.” Friday’s jobs report is expected to show the US economy added 190,000 jobs in February and the unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 per cent.

Most commodity- and oil-linked stocks were higher as prices of copper and some other industrial commodities rose. US oil prices fell slightly, but the Brent crude benchmark advanced a bit.

Dow member Caterpillar, which supplies machinery to mining and oil companies, rose 3.4 per cent, while offshore driller Transocean climbed 10.1 per cent. Apache rose 7.4 per cent.

Chesapeake Energy surged 26.6 per cent. Bloomberg attributed the rise to news that the oil and gas producer had been granted immunity from prosecution in connection with an investigation of bid-rigging charges against company founder and former chief executive Aubrey McClendon.

McClendon died in a car crash Wednesday, one day after being indicted by the US Justice Department on criminal antitrust charges.

Big-box retailer Costco Wholesale dropped 0.8 per cent after reporting that fiscal second-quarter net income fell 8.7 per cent to US$546 million (S$758 million). Revenues were US$28.2 billion, below the analyst forecast of US$28.4 billion.

Supermarket chain Kroger tumbled 7 per cent after reporting fourth-quarter revenues of  US$26.2 billion, below the US$26.3 billion analyst estimate. Earnings rose 7.9 per cent to US$559 million.