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Retailers help stocks to inch higher

US stocks inched higher on Thursday as smaller retailers and banks climbed and energy companies rose with fuel prices.

Strong reports from companies including L Brands, the parent of Victoria's Secret, and Bed Bath & Beyond helped retailers. Energy companies rose with the prices of oil and natural gas, and banks recovered some of the sharp losses they took a day ago.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose as much as 98 points early in the afternoon. However high-dividend stocks like phone companies and utilities skidded and technology companies also fell.

It was the second day in a row that stocks slumped during afternoon trading, although the slip on Thursday was far less dramatic than the one the day before.

That slide started after the Federal Reserve said it may stop buying new bonds later this year and said its policymakers were grappling with whether it would be safe to let inflation rise faster.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 4.54 points, or 0.2%, to 2,357.49. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 14.80 points, or 0.1%, to 20,662.95.

The Nasdaq composite gained 14.47 points, or 0.2%, to 5,878.95. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks performed far better. It climbed 12.28 points, or 0.9%, to 1,364.43.

Investors will get an updated picture of the economy in the coming weeks, including the government's March report on employment Friday. Next week the Commerce Department will give a report on retailer sales and companies including JPMorgan Chase, Delta Air Lines and Netflix will report their earnings.

L Brands jumped 4.75 dollars, or 11%, to 47.85 dollars after it reported strong March sales. Bed Bath & Beyond surpassed analysts' earnings estimates and climbed 1.28 dollars, or 3.4%, to 39.08 dollars. Department stores and retailers based in shopping centres like Kohl's, Nordstrom and Gap traded higher. Discount retailers Fred's and Five Below made hefty gains after Fred's announced its own quarterly results.

Retail stocks have been hit hard for months as shoppers spend more money online and less at stores, especially ones based in shopping centres.

US crude oil added 55 cents, or 1.1%, to 51.70 dollars a barrel in New York while Brent crude, the international standard, rose 53 cents, or 1%, to 54.89 dollars a barrel in London.

Wine, spirits and beer maker Constellation Brands jumped after it reported a larger profit and better sales than analysts expected. The company said its beer business, which includes Corona and Modelo, had a strong quarter, and it raised its profit forecast for the year. Its stock gained 10.37 dollars, or 6.4%, to 171.77 dollars.

The dollar fell to 110.78 yen from 110.86 yen. The euro fell to 1.0646 dollars from 1.0667 dollars.

France's CAC 40 jumped 0.6% and the FTSE 100 index in Britain fell 0.4%. Germany's DAX rose 0.1%. In Japan the benchmark Nikkei 225 lost 1.4%, and the Kospi of South Korea lost 0.4%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.6%.

AP

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