Wall Street rose Thursday as investors bought back into stocks after two days of losses, encouraged by a drop in unemployment claims and...

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NEW YORK — Wall Street rose Thursday as investors bought back into stocks after two days of losses, encouraged by a drop in unemployment claims and a better-than-expected performance by discount retailers.

The Dow Jones industrial average added 54.72 to 12,581.98.

Microsoft, one of the 30 Dow stocks, gained 22 cents to close at $29.11. Boeing, also a Dow stock, fell 17 cents to $78.43.

Broader stock indicators also advanced. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 6.06 to 1,360.55, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 29.58 to 2,351.70.

Although the Labor Department said last week the four-week average of initial unemployment claims had hit a 2-½-year high, investors were pleased to hear Thursday that new claims fell more than expected last week.

Many retailers, from Gap to Saks, said Thursday that March sales slid as consumers grew more frugal, but Wall Street was encouraged that other companies are weathering the weakness.

Discounters Wal-Mart and Costco Wholesale, which sell staples such as food and gasoline, reported sharp increases in March and indicated they expect sales to keep rising.

“The jobless claims snapped back down following the sharp rise last week. Combined with the news from Wal-Mart, it suggests that the consumer may be able to muddle through. That’s providing some support for an otherwise strained market,” said Alan Gayle, senior investment strategist for RidgeWorth Capital Management.

However, questions about the health of the global financial system in advance of banks’ earnings reports next week remain a troubling backdrop for the market.

Lehman Brothers’ investment bank disclosed in a regulatory filing Wednesday that it had liquidated three funds because of the tight credit markets and brought the assets of those funds, valued at $1 billion, onto its books Feb. 29.

“We think everything is better, and then we get another surprise. Every credit rock we turn over has something else crawl out from under it,” Gayle said.