NEW YORK - A bit of good news was all it took to break a weeklong slump in the stock market.
A report that U.S. exports had hit a record in April sent stocks sharply higher Thursday as investors hoped the economic recovery might not be as sluggish as the last week of grim economic reports had suggested.
Trade levels factor into calculations of economic growth. Thursday's number could add half a percentage point or more to the government's estimate of second-quarter gross domestic product, said Anthony Chan, chief economist for JPMorgan Private Wealth.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 75.42 points, or 0.6 percent, to close at 12,124.36. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 9.44, or 0.7 percent, to 1,289.00. The Nasdaq composite rose 9.49, or 0.4 percent, to 2,684.87.
The gains broke a six-day losing streak, the longest for the Dow Jones industrial average in more than a year and the longest for the Standard & Poor's 500 index since February 2009. Stocks had dropped after poor reports on manufacturing, home sales, hiring, and consumer confidence.
The weeklong slump also made stocks appear relatively cheap, Chan said. The S&P 500 lost 6.2 percent over the previous six days of trading.
"Markets usually swing like a pendulum," Chan said. "This decline has been strong enough that you can easily justify the market taking a breath."
The narrower trade deficit is a sign that goods from U.S. manufacturers are becoming more competitive overseas. U.S. companies sold more computers, heavy machinery, and telecommunications equipment abroad in April than in March. Imports declined because fewer cars were bought from Japan after the earthquake and tsunami disaster damaged factories there.
Companies that make farming machinery rose after the government reported that U.S. corn crops would be smaller this fall. That sent corn prices soaring and raised expectations that farm owners would buy more agricultural equipment such as tractors. Deere & Co. and AGCO Corp. rose 2.5 percent.
A report on first-time claims for unemployment benefits was in line with expectations that new applications would stay roughly the same. The Labor Department reported that new claims had edged up 1,000 to 427,000. Economists had expected a slight drop. The high level of claims still suggests that the job market is slow.
Interpublic Group of Companies jumped 6.4 percent, the most in the S&P 500 index, after Moody's raised its rating on the advertising company.
UnitedHealth Group Inc. closed up $2.40, or 5 percent, at $50.60. Credit Suisse raised its price target on the health insurer, saying continued margin improvements are possible in 2012.
A jump in oil prices sent energy stocks higher. Energy companies in the S&P 500 index rose 1.2 percent. Crude rose $1.13 to settle at $101.87.
Stocks have been slipping since mid-April over concerns that the U.S. economy has hit a soft patch. Rising oil prices, Japan's tsunami and nuclear disaster, and the risk that Greece might default on its debt have led investors to lower their forecasts for U.S. growth this year.