Stocks struggle for direction in early trading

Stocks dart between small gains and losses in early trading; S&P 500 just shy of record

Associated Press
S&P 500 moves above its record high, keeps going
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FILE - In this Monday, March 25, 2013, file photo, Specialist Mario Picone, left, works with traders at his post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Renewed jitters about Europe's debt crisis sent world stock markets lower Thursday March 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. stocks darted between small gains and losses in early trading Thursday as investors considered mixed signals from the U.S. economy and Europe.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 16 points, or 0.1 percent, at 14,542 half an hour after the opening bell.

The S&P inched up half a point, or 0.01 percent, to 1,563, just two points shy of the closing high it reached on Oct. 9. 2007, before the financial crisis imploded.

Investors have struggled to discern the state of the U.S. economy. For every sign that it's improving, another says it's not.

Thursday was a case in point.

The U.S. economy grew faster than first estimated in the fourth quarter, the government reported. The growth of 0.4 percent was still anemic, however. And the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits jumped for the second straight week. On a longer time frame, jobless claims have been declining since November.

Investors are also uncertain what to make of the continuing debt crisis in Europe, including the bailout of the Mediterranean island country of Cyprus. Banks there reopened Thursday for the first time in nearly two weeks.

The banks had been closed because the government was negotiating emergency loans from other European countries, and there were concerns that there would be a run on the banks. Across Cyprus on Thursday, customers stood in long but orderly lines for hours ahead of the bank openings, and guards from private security firms reinforced police outside some ATMs and banks in the capital, Nicosia.

Some investors had predicted that a bailout plan for Cyprus would send the markets up because it would calm concerns that the country's banking system might collapse. But the markets have been mixed this week. Some investors said the Cyprus bailout only serves as a reminder that Europe's debt crisis lingers.

In other trading, he Nasdaq composite index was off two points, or 0.06 percent, at 3,254.

Among stocks making big moves:

—Research In Motion, the maker of BlackBerry phones, rose after surprising analysts with a profitable quarter and better-than-expected sales of its touch-screen BlackBerry 10s. The company hopes to take back some of the market share it has lost to Apple's iPhone and other competitors. The stock rose 59 cents, about 4 percent, to $15.16.

—Repros Therapeutics, a drug developer, shot higher on news that its potential treatment for low testosterone moved closer to regulatory approval. The stock rose $6.27, or 69 percent, to $15.40.

—Signet Jewelers, which runs Kay and Jared stores, and Mosaic, the fertilizer maker, were both up after reporting higher quarterly profits and revenue. Signet rose more than 7 percent, $4.74, to $68.01. Mosaic was up more than 1 percent, rising 83 cents to $59.51.

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