US stocks end higher ahead of jobs data

NEW YORK (AFP) - Wall Street shares ended modestly higher Thursday ahead of the long holiday weekend, with traders confident that the next day's March jobs data will not change the overall economic picture.

On the final session of the week before a three-day Easter weekend, the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 65.06 points (0.37 per cent) at 17,763.24.

The broad-based S&P 500 gained 7.27 (0.35 per cent) at 2,066.96, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite rose 6.71 (0.14 per cent) to 4,886.94.

"Volumes are light and it's kind of a lacklustre day. You can't read too much into today's action. This is this time of year when people go on spring break, and tomorrow will be Good Friday," said Hinsdale Associates's Bill Lynch.

In positive numbers for the economy, jobless claims fell to a low 268,000 last week, suggesting more tightening in the labour market.

The US trade deficit meanwhile shrank to a more than five-year low, which analysts said should give a boost to first-quarter economic growth.

But it was not clear how that would translate into the Labor Department's March jobs report to be released on Friday, and traders will not have much chance to react to that until the beginning of next week due to the market holiday.

The jobs report is expected to show the economy added a 250,000 net new positions last month, lower than February's 288,000 but still strong.

Used car dealer CarMax topped gainers among large companies, its shares jumping 9.3 per cent on a 44 per cent surge in profits in its fourth quarter.

Chipmaker Micron Technology fell 1.5 per cent despite beating earnings per share forecasts for its fiscal second quarter by 13 per cent.

McDonald's fell 0.5 per cent one day after announcing it would boost wages for 90,000 employees in company-owned US restaurants.

Among other major companies, beer giant AB Inbev added 1.8 per cent, while Qualcomm fell 2.1 per cent and Google lost 1.3 per cent as it faced a growing spat with Beijing over a Chinese security breach.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year US Treasury rose to 1.90 per cent from 1.86 percent Wednesday, while the 30-year rose to 2.52 per cent from 2.46 per cent. Bond prices and yields move inversely.

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