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Wall Street climbs after two-day decline; focus on jobs data

Street signs for Wall St. and Broad St. hang at the corner outside the New York Stock Exchange March 24, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks bounced on Thursday after two days of declines following encouraging data on the labor market, but mixed data this week kept investors on edge before Friday's key payrolls report.

The consumer discretionary sector, as measured by the S&P consumer discretionary index (.SPLRCD), was the day's best-performing sector. The index rose 0.9 percent, helped by gains in CarMax (KMX.N). The stock jumped 9.3 percent to $74.73 following stronger-than-expected quarterly results.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week. The report followed lower-than-expected readings on private sector employment and manufacturing on Wednesday.

The data has given a mixed picture of the economy ahead of the March jobs report, due on Friday, when the stock market is closed for the Good Friday holiday. Stock investors will be unable to trade off the report until Monday.

The Federal Reserve has said it will not raise interest rates until it deems the economy strong enough to withstand such a move, which will raise borrowing costs and possibly crimp spending. A below-consensus jobs number on Friday could ease concerns of a nearer-term rate rise, strategists said.

For the week, the S&P and Dow each rose just 0.3 percent, while the Nasdaq dipped 0.1 percent.

"It's safe to say there's quite a of bit of uncertainty in the market and you're kind of seeing that translate into a lot of volatility with not a lot of direction," said Joe Bell, senior equity analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research in Cincinnati.

The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) rose 65.06 points, or 0.37 percent, to 17,763.24, the S&P 500 (.SPX) gained 7.27 points, or 0.35 percent, to 2,066.96, and the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) added 6.71 points, or 0.14 percent, to 4,886.94.

Micron Technology (MU.O) shares lost 1.5 percent to $26.72, a day after the company forecast lower revenue for the current quarter.

Shares of Motorola Solutions Inc (MSI.N) fell 6.2 percent to $62.51. A Bloomberg report, citing people with knowledge of the matter, said the company has failed to find a buyer after seeking to raise interest from private equity funds and large industrial companies.

The S&P energy index (.SPNY) ended up 0.2 percent despite lower crude prices. Oil fell after a preliminary pact between Iran and global powers on Tehran's nuclear program, although officials set further talks in June and analysts questioned when the OPEC member will be allowed to export more crude.

The release of the U.S. monthly jobs report has coincided with Good Friday only four times since 1999, according to data from Bespoke, most recently in 2012. Analysts expect 245,000 jobs added in the month, down from 295,000 in February.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on Thursday on the NYSE by 1,923 to 1,101; on the Nasdaq, 1,643 issues rose and 1,092 fell.

The S&P 500 posted 19 new 52-week highs and three new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 104 new highs and 35 new lows.

About 5.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 6.4 billion daily average for the last five trading sessions, according to BATS Global Markets.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum and Leslie Adler)