NEW YORK (AP) -- The stock market advanced for a fourth straight day Thursday, pushing the Standard & Poor's 500 index to a record high.<br />
Investors were encouraged by news that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits remains at a multi-year low. Hewlett-Packard rose after delivering better results, while Sears plunged after reporting that its loss doubled from a year ago.<br />
The S&P 500 rose 5.86 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,992.37, four points above the record close the index set on July 24.<br />
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 60.36 points, or 0.4 percent, to 17,039.49. It was the Dow's first close above 17,000 since July 24. The Nasdaq composite rose 5.62 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,532.10.<br />
Hewlett-Packard was the biggest gainer in the S&P 500. The technology giant rose $1.88, or 5.4 percent, to $37 after reporting better-than-expected results and its first sales increase in nearly three years. HP has been undergoing a multi-year restructuring under CEO Meg Whitman, who has laid off employees and cut back businesses that aren't profitable.<br />
Bank of America was also among the market's biggest advancers. The company reached a $16.65 billion settlement with the Justice Department over its sale of mortgage-backed securities in the months leading up to the financial crisis. The settlement is by far the largest deal the Justice Department has reached with a bank over the 2008 mortgage meltdown. BofA rose 64 cents, or 4 percent, to $16.16.
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
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