Stocks hold at a record high ahead of jobs report

STEVE ROTHWELL AP Markets Writer Published:

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stock held at record levels in early trading Thursday amid optimism about the outlook for the U.S. economy. A survey on Thursday showed the U.S. service sector grew more quickly in March on a rise in new orders and more hiring.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index was little changed at 1,891 as of 10:27 a.m. Eastern time. The index is at an all-time high. The Dow Jones industrial average rose nine points to 16,581. The Nasdaq composite fell four points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,271.

UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS: The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 16,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 326,000, the Labor Department said. Despite the increase, the number remains close to pre-recession levels and points to stable hiring. The government issues its March employment report on Friday.

RECORD BREAKER: The stock market is trading at record levels after some encouraging news on the economy this week. Reports on manufacturing and hiring have suggested that the economy is starting to strengthen after a lull caused by unusually harsh weather this winter. The Institute for Supply Management's non-manufacturing index rose to 53.1 in March, up from 51.6 in February, indicating that growth in the services sector of the economy is picking up.

BOOK ENDS: Barnes & Noble fell $2.19, or 10.2 percent, to $19.86 after Liberty Media said it was cutting its stake in Barnes & Noble Corp. Liberty Media, the investment company controlled by billionaire investor John Malone, gave Barnes & Noble a lifeline in 2011 when it bought a 17 percent stake in the company.

ROBOT BUYBACK: IRobot Corp. rose $1.18, or 2.7 percent, to $44.02 after the company said it planned to buy back $50 million of its own stock, starting in May.

BONDS AND COMMODITIES: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was little changed from Wednesday at 2.80 percent. The price of oil fell 31 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $99.33 a barrel. Gold fell $6.70, or 0.5 percent, to $1,284.80.