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Stocks end higher as LinkedIn soars on debut

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Meanwhile, Glencore, the world's largest diversified commodities trader, priced its $10 billion IPO in the Hong Kong and the UK on Wednesday.

The dollar fell against a basket of currencies and oil prices slipped after U.S. economic data showed signs of a slow growth. U.S. light, sweet crude fell 1.66 percent to settle at $98.44 a barrel, while in London, Brent crude fell 0.8 percent to settle at $111.42.

Precious metals prices fell slightly on the weak economic news. Gold fell 0.23 percent to settle at $1,492.20 on Thursday, while silver fell 0.48 percent to $34.927.

On the earnings front, Sears shares dropped after reporting a wider-than-expected loss on declining sales.

But Dollar Tree beat profit expectations as the low-priced chain continued to benefit from shoppers trying to get the most for their money.

GameStop rose despite delivering a disappointing second quarter earnings outlook as the video game retailer posted stronger-than-expected results for the first quarter.

Limited Brands fell Thursday despite reporting a 47 percent gain in profits and a double-digit gain in same-store sales. Also Lazard Capital raised its price target for the owner of Victoria's Secret to $55 a share from $45.

Also trading lower was Hot Topic, which reported a bigger loss in the first quarter than expected, and Children's Place, which beat earnings expectations but reported little change in profit margins.

More retail earnings will be reported after the bell when Gap releases results, and cloud computing company Salesforce.com also delivers earnings.

Elsewhere, Sodastream jumped after news the maker of home carbonation systems plans to create products for offices, restaurants and the hospitality industry next year, the company CEO told Reuters.

In M&A news, Thermo Fisher Scientific is buying Phadia, a privately-held Swedish company, for about $3.5 billion in cash. Phadia makes blood test systems.

Volume on the consolidated tape of the New York Stock Exchange was 3.2 billion shares, while 872 million changed hands on the NYSE floor.

Several economic reports released on Thursday provided investors with evidence the economy remains weak.

The Philadelphia Fed's business activity index tumbled to 3.9 in May from 18.5 in April, a surprising drop. Economists had expected the index to rise to 20, according to Reuters.

Also, existing home sales fell 0.8 percent in April, according to the National Association of Realtors. Economists had expected home sales to rise.

Initial claims for unemployment fell by 29,000 to 409,000 in week ended May 14 from an upwardly revised 438,000 claims the week before, the Labor Department said. Economists surveyed by Reuters expected claims to fall to 420,000 from the previously reported 434,000.

The four-week moving average of claims, however, reached a six-month high, rising 1,250 to 439,000. Continuing claims fell to 3.71 million in the week ended May 7 from 3.79 million.

Japan got word on Thursday that the country officially had fallen into recession in the first quarter as a result of the multiple disasters in March.

Shares in Europe closed higher, led by energy stocks.

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