Stocks eked out a gain for the fourth straight day yesterday after tepid housing-start and jobless-claims reports gave investors few clues...

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NEW YORK — Stocks eked out a gain for the fourth straight day yesterday after tepid housing-start and jobless-claims reports gave investors few clues about the direction of the economy and interest rates.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 12.28 to 10,578.65 after moving in and out of positive territory for much of the session. The Dow also inched higher the first three days of the week — an indication that investors, while uninspired by the economic data, are finding few reasons for a big sell-off.

Microsoft, one of the 30 Dow stocks, declined 22 cents to close at $25.04 a share. Boeing, also a Dow stock, fell 72 cents to $63.39.

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Broader stock indicators also closed narrowly higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 4.38 to 1,210.96. The Nasdaq composite index closed up 14.23 at 2,089.15.

Investors were hoping for a hint of how the Federal Reserve, which meets later this month, will formulate its monetary policy for the coming months. But yesterday’s economic reports gave the market little guidance.

“Investors are parsing every bit of economic data for an indication that the Fed is willing to step aside” and end its yearlong streak of rate increases, said Joseph Keating, chief investment officer at AmSouth Asset Management.

The Commerce Department reported that housing starts edged up 0.2 percent in May, slightly less than expected, but the level of new construction permits remained strong, a sign of continuing strength in the sector.

The Labor Department said jobless claims were up 1,000 to 333,000 last week, in line with expectations. Recent claim levels have been moderate, but analysts expect auto-industry layoffs to send them higher in July.

A report from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve that its regional economy was contracting sent stocks down temporarily. Philadelphia-area manufacturers saw overall activity fall in June, the first negative reading in 25 months, according to the unexpectedly weak report.

Stocks are likely to trade in a narrow range until the June 29-30 meeting of the Fed’s policy makers. The Fed is expected to raise short-term interest rates for the ninth time when it meets next, continuing the rate increases that began last year.

The market’s focus will be the Fed’s accompanying assessment of the economy; investors are looking for signs that the string of rate increases is coming to an end. While Wall Street’s conventional wisdom is that rate increases will end with the Fed’s August meeting, some analysts say rate increases — and the attendant sideways movement that has characterized stocks for the past 17 months — will continue.

“The market is too high, short-term interest rates are too low and long-term interest rates are really low,” said Linda Duessel, market strategist and senior portfolio manager at Federated Investors in Pittsburgh, Pa. “The least expected outcome [for stocks] is a strong move up.”

Gold futures rose sharply in New York on fund buying, up $7.10, to $435.20 an ounce. Traders and analysts said the metal was showing signs of strength without help from the U.S. dollar, since the metal surged to 1 ½-month highs even though the euro was only a half cent or so from nine-month lows.

Oil prices climbed by $1.01 to $56.58 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. News that Russian oil output was down 3.4 percent in April and concerns about refining capacity boosted oil prices.

Beleaguered General Motors slumped 2 percent, or 72 cents, to $35.62 on reports the United Auto Workers would refuse cuts in health-care benefits.