U.S. Stocks Jump Higher as Jobless Claims Sink

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U.S. stocks headed higher early Thursday buoyed by a sharp fall in weekly claims for unemployment, which hit their lowest level in four and a half years.

Opening action focused on Sprint Nextel, whose shares immediately soared 17 percent on a report that Japan's Softbank was planning a bid for the number three U.S. wireless carrier.

Forty-five minutes into trade (1415 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 58.67 points, or 0.44 percent, at 13,403.64.

The S&P 500 gained 9.23 (0.64 percent) to 1,441.79, while the tech-rich Nasdaq added 22.87 points (0.75 percent) to 3,074.87.

Driving the mood was a sharp fall in weekly jobless claims, a measure of the pace of layoffs around the country, to 339,000 in the week to October 6. The last time weekly claims were that low was mid-February 2008, as the country plunged into a 19-month recession that sent the unemployment rate soaring to 10.0 percent.

Trade was heavy in Spring, with profit-taking easing early gains, the shares up 13.1 percent to $5.70 at 1415 GMT.

Media reports in Japan and the United States said Softbank, Japan's third-biggest mobile carrier, was in talks to take over Sprint worth in a deal the Wall Street Journal reported could be worth more than $13 billion.

The deal could buoy Sprint's ability to compete against dominant U.S. cellphone powers Verizon and AT&T as well as the challenge from smaller T-Mobile and MetroPCS, which are in advanced merger talks.

MetroPCS shares lost 5.0 percent.

Fedex gained 1.8 percent after it unveiled a sweeping global cost-cutting program to deal with slowing world growth, including "several thousand" voluntary job cuts.

Boeing rose 1.4 percent after announcing a $5 billion deal to sell 50 737 single-aisle jetliners to Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Air gained 0.3 percent.

U.S. bond prices fell. The 10-year Treasury yield rose to 1.72 percent from 1.68 percent Wednesday, while the 30-year yield pushed to 2.92 percent from 2.88 percent.