NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks are edging mostly higher in early trading Thursday after the government reported the latest encouraging news on the U.S. job market: a surprisingly large decline in the number of people seeking unemployment benefits. That's a good signal ahead of the Labor Department's closely watched monthly employment survey due out Friday.
KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose a point, or 0.1 percent, to 1,838 in the first hour of trading. The Dow Jones industrial average edged down 13, or 0.1 percent, to 16,453. The Nasdaq composite was little changed at 4,166.
THE ECONOMY: The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell by 15,000 last week to 330,000. The drop was slightly bigger than economists predicted, according to FactSet. The claims report sets the stage for the government jobs report for December. Economists expect employers added 196,000 jobs last month.
MACY'S LAYOFFS: Macy's rose $3.27, or 6 percent, to $55.11 after the company said it would cut 2,500 jobs as part of a reorganization. Macy's said the moves will save it $100 million per year. The company also forecast a 2014 profit that was above Wall Street's forecasts.
ELSEWHERE IN RETAIL: Bed Bath & Beyond plunged $9.89, or 12 percent, to $69.80 and Family Dollar fell $4.34, or 6 percent, to $62.01 after cutting their earnings forecasts following a disappointing holiday season.
FORD DIVIDEND: Ford rose 36 cents, or 2 percent, to $15.90 after the company announced it was increasing its quarterly dividend to 12.5 cents per share, up from 10 cents per share. The increase comes a day after the stock gained 1 percent on news that Alan Mulally would stay on as CEO and not leave to run Microsoft.
EARNINGS SEASON: Thursday marks the beginning of third-quarter earnings releases for companies in the S&P 500 index. Alcoa, an aluminum maker and former Dow component, will report its earnings after the closing bell. Alcoa was already in the news early Thursday, falling 26 cents, or 2 percent, to $10.58 on word that an Alcoa subsidiary will plead guilty and pay $384 million for paying bribes to the Middle Eastern Kingdom of Bahrain.