NEW YORK (AP) -- An encouraging drop in claims for unemployment benefits helped the stock market edge higher in late morning trading Thursday.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up nine points at 14,970 at 11:09 Eastern Daylight Time.
The Labor Department said that the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell by 11,000 last week to 346,000, a level that's consistent with steady job growth.
"It's a good sign," said Tim Speiss, chairman of the personal wealth advisers practice at EisnerAmper.
Speiss said the government's monthly employment survey, due out Friday, could cause a big move in the market if it comes in either much stronger or much weaker than expected. Economists predict that employers added 170,000 jobs last month.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 3 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,612. The Nasdaq composite rose six points, also 0.2 percent, to 3,407.
Seven of the 10 S&P 500 sectors rose, led by telecoms and utilities. Such stocks carry rich dividends. Investors prefer them when the economy appears shaky and stock markets risky.
The stock of Sprint Nextel Corp. rose nine cents, or 1.2 percent, to $7.29.
A batch of weak economic reports sent the stock market plunging to its lowest level in a month on Wednesday. The Dow had its biggest one-day loss in seven weeks and closed below 15,000 for the first time since May 6.
Financial markets have turned volatile over the past two weeks as traders parse comments from Federal Reserve officials for hints about when the bank will cut back on its support for the economy.
Long-term interest rates are expected to rise as the economy improves and the Fed scales down its monthly purchases of $85 billion in bonds. Rates are at historically low levels.
"As interest rates come back to more normal levels, it's probably going to cause volatility," Speiss said. "But that should be viewed as healthy."
Among stocks making big moves:
— L Brands, owner of Victoria's Secret and Bath and Body Works, fell $1.16, or 2.2 percent, to $50.50 after reporting sales growth in May that came in below estimates of financial analysts.
— Costco rose $1.26, or 1.2percent, to $110.41 after reporting a 5 percent rise in sales.
The Dow is coming off two days of losses. The 30-stock average has gone without a losing streak of at least three days since December 28, a record 108 trading days, according to Schaeffer's Investment Research.
The market is off to a rough start in June. After just three full days of trading, the S&P 500 has lost 1.3 percent. The Dow has lost 1 percent.
In the market for U.S. government bonds, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note inched up to 2.10 percent from 2.09 late Wednesday.
The price of crude oil crossed above $95 per barrel following a report from the Energy Department that the country's oil supply shrank last week. Gold climbed $1.30 to $1,399 an ounce.