NEW YORK — Stocks closed slightly higher in lackluster pre-holiday trading Wednesday, with a better-than-expected government report on oil inventories and good unemployment figures giving investors reasons to buy stocks.
Wall Street was generally encouraged as the latest Energy Department report on petroleum reserves showed flat demand and slight reserve increases in distillates such as heating oil. However, oil futures rose in afternoon trading, with a barrel of light crude quoted at $49.44, up 50 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
A drop in weekly unemployment claims, which fell to their lowest level in three months, eased investor concerns about the strength of the economy. According to the Labor Department, 323,000 first-time jobless claims were filed last week, down 334,000 last week and less than the 335,000 analysts had expected.
However, with the dollar still struggling against other currencies and a mix of economic data, the markets were sluggish, especially with the Thanksgiving holiday approaching.
“I don’t know if there’s anything really driving the market today,” said Scott Wren, equity strategist at A.G. Edwards & Sons. “The dollar’s lower, but so is oil. Volume’s a little better, so there’s probably still some optimism there.”
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 27.71, or 0.26 percent, to 10,520.31.
Broader stock indicators were modestly higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 4.82, or 0.41 percent, at 1,181.76, and the Nasdaq composite index gained 18.26, or 0.88 percent, to 2,102.54.
The latest economic news weighed on the market, minimizing the day’s gains. The dollar slid to another new low against the euro, breaking Tuesday’s record, with investors continuing to worry about the potential lack of foreign investment, as well as a more aggressive interest rate policy from the Federal Reserve, should the dollar’s trend continue.
“I think the dollar remains a major concern right now,” said Tim Trainor, equity trader with John Hancock Funds. “And we know the Federal Reserve is going to react to it. We’ll probably see another interest rate hike in December because of it.”
In addition, orders for durable goods — big-ticket items expected to last at least three years — fell 0.4 percent in October after a 0.9 percent gain in September, according to the Commerce Department. Wall Street had expected a rise of 0.5 percent.
The latest reading of the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index also was disappointing. The revised index for November fell to 92.8, compared to the 95.5 reading in October and the 96 reading expected this month on Wall Street.