Mixed economic news keeps stock gains in check

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By Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Conflicting signs about the economic recovery caused stock indexes to pare early gains Thursday even after LinkedIn became the biggest Internet IPO since Google went public in 2004.

Stocks opened higher after the Department of Labor reported that applications for unemployment dropped 29,000 last week, more than expected, to 409,000. Indexes gave up those early gains after three negative reports on the economy came out at midmorning.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 23 points, or 0.2 percent, to 12,583 in midday trading. The Standard & Poor's 500 index edged up 1, or 0.1 percent, to 1,342. The Nasdaq composite index added 5, or 0.2 percent, to 2,820.

The National Association of Realtors said fewer people purchased previously occupied homes in April. The Conference Board's outlook for future economic activity decreased for the first time since June 2010. And the Philadelphia Federal Reserve said that its measure of manufacturing activity slumped to its lowest reading since October.

The mixed news confirmed investors' belief that economic growth could be slow in the coming months. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note had risen as high as 3.24 percent following the positive jobs news but was back down to 3.20 percent in afternoon trading, slightly above the 3.18 percent rate it was trading at late Wednesday. Bond yields tend to rise when investors anticipate stronger economic growth.

"The fact that yields are still up today, even after this relatively weak set of data, tells me that people have factored in" expectations that the economy will grow more slowly this quarter, said Paul Zemsky, chief information officer of multi-asset strategies for ING Investment Management.

With little fresh economic or corporate data expected in the next two weeks, the market will be "pretty much trading sideways unless something happens to throw people for a loop again," Zemsky said.

One bright spot was the white-hot debut of social networking company LinkedIn Corp. Shares jumped $64.85, or 144 percent, to $109.55.

The debut is seen as a preview of other social networking sites that are expected to start trading publicly during the next year. The list of candidates includes the online messaging service Twitter, online game maker Zynga, online coupon service Groupon and the biggest social network of all, Facebook.

The enthusiasm over LinkedIn's debut did little to move stocks of other technology companies. An index measuring information technology companies in the S&P 500 index edged up just 0.2 percent.

Stock indexes rose for the first time in three days Wednesday thanks to widespread gains in energy and materials companies. The market has stalled lately because of growing concerns that the U.S. economy is not growing as quickly as originally thought.

In a sign that the U.S. consumer recovery remains uneven, Big Lots Inc. fell 9 percent to $34.31 after news reports that it decided not to sell itself. The Wall Street Journal said late Wednesday that the company received bids from two private-equity groups that were lower than it had hoped.

Sears Holding Corp. reported softer sales at its Kmart and Sears stores, causing a first-quarter loss of $1.58 per share, worse than analysts expected. The stock fell 3.2 percent to $73.31.