By STAN CHOE
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 24, 2011; 2:24 PM
NEW YORK -- Stocks rose Thursday on stronger corporate earnings and hopes that the job market may be improving.
Software company Red Hat Inc., chip maker Micron Technology Inc. and Chef Boyardee maker ConAgra Foods Inc. all reported results that beat expectations. Earnings growth has been strong across U.S. companies, which are benefiting from lower costs and higher revenue overseas.
The government also said fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, evidence that layoffs are slowing. The average number of unemployment filings over the last four weeks has dropped to its lowest level since July 2008.
"Corporate earnings continue to be exceptionally strong," said Oliver Pursche, president of Gary Goldberg Financial Services. "I think the markets continue to focus on the underlying recovery of the U.S. economy."
Investors are turning their attention away from a long list of recent worries including high oil prices, violence in Libya and Japan's nuclear crisis. Portugal also looked closer to needing bailout funds. Its government resigned late Wednesday after lawmakers rejected a plan to cut the country's debts. European leaders are meeting to discuss the region's debt problems.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 72 points, or 0.5 percent, to 12,158. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 8 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,306. The Nasdaq composite index rose 30 points, or 1.1 percent, to 2,728.
All three major indexes have gained more than 2 percent this week as Japan appeared to make progress on getting a leaking nuclear plant under control.
Among active stocks, Red Hat jumped 20 percent to $47.83, and Micron rose 8 percent to $11.45 on their earnings results.
ConAgra rose 1.8 percent to $23.35.
Scholastic Corp., a publisher of children's books, fell 12 percent to $27.50. Weaker sales pushed it to a wider loss last quarter. The company also cut its forecast for full-year earnings, citing tighter budgets for schools.