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Better-than-expected initial claims numbers lifted the major indices higher on Thursday. Benchmarks finished in the green for the fourth consecutive day. The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones finished yesterday’s trading session on a new high. Encouraging initial claims numbers acted as a catalyst to investor sentiment after receiving a jolt from dismal March payrolls numbers. Investors will now closely watch the quarterly results of two major banking giants. The technology sector had a bad run and was the only loser among the S&P 500 industry groups. The health care sector was the biggest gainer.                               

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) gained 0.4% to close the day at 14,865.14. The S&P 500 added 0.4% to finish yesterday’s trading session at 1,593.37. The tech-laden Nasdaq Composite Index inched up 0.1% to end at 3,300.16. The fear-gauge CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) fell 1.0% to settle at 12.24. Consolidated volumes on the New York Stock Exchange, American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq were roughly 6.17 billion shares, lower than 2012’s daily average of 6.45 billion shares. Advancing stocks outnumbered the decliners. For the 60% that advanced, 37% declined.

The Street began yesterday’s trading session on a positive note. Though the S&P 500 and the blue-chip index had a good run yesterday, the Nasdaq’s gains were limited by weakness in major technology companies. Technology shares declined after an industry report revealed that shipments of personal computers had declined considerably in the first quarter.

On the home front, the U.S. Department of Labor released initial claims numbers. According to the report, the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits declined 42,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 388,000 to 346,000. This was well below the consensus estimate of 368,000. But the four week moving average increased 3,000 to 358,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 355,000. According to economists, a decline below 350,000 signifies a moderate improvement in the labor market.  

On Friday, two major banking giants JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) and Wells Fargo & Co (NYSE:WFC) are scheduled to declare their quarterly results. According to Thomson Reuters data, profits of S&P 500 companies are expected to increase by 1.5% from the same quarter a year ago.

The SPDR S&P Retail (XRT) gained 2.0%. L Brands Inc (NYSE:LTD) and Ross Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ:ROST) surged 4.3% and 5.9%, respectively after both of the companies posted better-than-expected same-store sales. But numbers from retail giants The TJX Companies, Inc. (NYSE:TJX) and Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST) came in below expectations. But both the companies managed to finish in the green. The Street had mixed same store retail sales numbers in March but analysts have projected that sales will increase in April.    

The technology sector was the lone loser among the S&P 500 industry groups and the Technology SPDR (XLK) lost 0.3%. Stocks such as Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ), Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) and Applied Micro Circuits Corporation (NASDAQ:AMCC) declined 4.4%, 6.5%, 0.3%, 2.0% and 2.2%, respectively.

Heath care stocks were the biggest gainer among the S&P 500 industry groups and the Health Care SPDR (XLV) edged up 1.0%. Stocks such as Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE), GlaxoSmithKline plc (NYSE:GSK), Bristol Myers Squibb Co. (NYSE:BMY), Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co., Inc. added 2.4%, 1.6%, 0.3%, 0.4% and 0.8%, respectively.