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Stocks move higher for a fourth day

NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. stocks were mostly higher in midday trading Thursday, helped by a report that showed 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.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average was up 66 points, or 0.4 percent, to 17,045 as of 12:07 p.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose four points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,991. The Nasdaq composite fell two points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,524.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS: Claims for unemployment benefits, a proxy for the number of people who lost their jobs and are looking for work, fell by 14,000 last week to 298,000. The less-volatile four-week average was 300,750, below the average before the Great Recession.

BANK LAWSUITS: Bank of America rose 23 cents, or 2 percent, to $15.76 after the company announced it had 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.

FED MINUTES: Investors were looking over minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve's last meeting. The minutes, released late Wednesday, showed that a majority of Fed policymakers believe the U.S. economy is improving enough for the central bank to start raising interest rates sooner than previously thought. The debate on when the Fed should begin increasing rates, which have been near zero since 2008, has intensified in recent months as the Fed winds down its other economic stimulus.

YELLEN'S SPEECH: Fed Chair Janet Yellen will give a speech at an annual conference of central bankers and other policymakers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on Friday. Investors will be watching closely for clues into her thinking on the timing of interest rate hikes.

BLACK INK JET: Technology giant Hewlett-Packard rose $1.61, or 4.5 percent, to $36.73 after the company reported 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 laid off employees and cutting back businesses that aren't profitable.

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS: Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar were all down in early trading. On Thursday, Family Dollar rejected Dollar General's unsolicited $9 billion buyout offer, citing antitrust concerns. Also weighing on Family Dollar's decision was a deal Family Dollar reached with smaller discount retailer Dollar Tree last month. Dollar Tree fell 70 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $54.29, Dollar General fell 31 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $63.46 and Family Dollar fell 11 cents, or 0.1 percent, to $79.70.

CLEARANCE: Sears Holdings was down $2.65, or 7 percent, to $33.37. The owner of Sears and Kmart said it lost $573 million in the last quarter, more than double what is lost the year before. It was the struggling company's ninth-straight quarterly loss.

BONDS AND ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude for October delivery rose 40 cents to $93.84 a barrel in New York. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note dipped to 2.42 percent from 2.43 percent the day before.

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