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Stocks continue their steady climb

The Dow rose 45 points to close at 12623 Thursday as strong corporate earnings reports and the lowest unemployment claims in almost four years gave investors more reasons  to take risks on stocks

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Specialist Matthew Diez, left, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Stocks continued climbing Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012, amid strong corporate earnings reports and the lowest jobless claims numbers since 2008.

Richard Drew/AP

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Strong corporate earnings reports and the lowest unemployment claims in almost four years gave investors more reasons Thursday to take risks on stocks, and the market continued its quiet but solid January climb.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 45.03 points to close at 12,623.98. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 6.46 points to close at 1,314.50. Both averages are at their highest since July.

Volume was slightly above average. The market has been subdued this year: The S&P has moved up or down 1 percent or more only twice, and the Dow has moved 100 points only once, a 179-point gain on opening day, Jan. 3.

But the gains have been steady. The S&P has closed higher 12 of 14 days, and all three major averages have recorded healthy advances for the young year — 3.3 percent for the Dow, 4.4 percent for the S&P and 7 percent for the Nasdaq composite index.

Investors appear ready to believe that the economic recovery is for real and getting stronger.

"The market is screaming loud and clear," said Doug Cote, chief market strategist with ING Investment Management. "Prices have lagged fundamentals, and now they're catching up."

After the market closed, Google stock plunged more than 10 percent after its earnings per share badly missed Wall Street expectations. Intel and Microsoft rose slightly in after-hours trading after more encouraging reports.

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In a sign of a bigger appetite for risk, investors moved money out of U.S. debt, a haven during the stock market's volatile second half of 2011. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note increased to 1.98 percent from 1.90 percent Wednesday.

The market was led by industries that tend to perform best when the economy is getting stronger — consumer discretionary stocks, financials and industrial companies.

Of the 10 categories of stocks in the S&P 500, the only one that lost considerable ground was utilities — a safe play for investors during turbulent times and the best-performing category last year.

Cote said the market's gains could accelerate as investors begin to focus more on economic fundamentals in the United States instead of worries about their exposure to risk.

And the economic news Thursday was good: The number of people seeking unemployment benefits plummeted last week to 352,000, the fewest since April 2008. The decline added to evidence that the job market is strengthening.

U.S. consumer prices were unchanged last month, a signal inflation is under control. In the housing market, a third straight increase in single-family home building in December was offset by a drop in apartment construction.

France and Spain also held successful bond auctions, easing concerns about the debt crisis in Europe. As global risk factors subside, Cote predicts that markets will see "a strong snap-back rally."

Bank of America rose 2 percent and Morgan Stanley rose 5 percent after reporting encouraging financial results. Bank of America returned to a profit in the last three months of 2011, while Morgan Stanley's loss was much less than forecast.

Renewable Energy Group Inc., the largest U.S. producer of biodiesel, edged up 10 cents to $10.10 on its first day of trading. It was the first initial public offering of stock this year.

Trading was halted in shares of Eastman Kodak, the iconic photography company, after it filed for bankruptcy protection. Kodak could not find a buyer for its trove of 1,100 digital imaging patents.

The Dow's gain for the day amounted to 0.4 percent. The S&P's came to 0.5 percent. The Nasdaq added 18.62 points, or 18.62 points, to close at 2,788.33.

Among other stocks in the news:

eBay Inc., the online auction company, rose 3.9 percent after it beat Wall Street earnings forecasts and gave a healthy outlook for the year.

Southwest Airlines Co. rose 3.1 percent after it said its fourth-quarter net income and revenue jumped. Southwest said it expects strong revenue in the first quarter too, based on passenger-booking trends.

Johnson Controls Inc., an auto parts and building equipment maker based in Milwaukee, fell 8.8 percent. Its profit and revenue fell short of Wall Street forecasts. It also cut its forecasts, blaming weaker auto production in Europe, a lower euro and poor demand for batteries.

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