Stocks End Higher in Light Trading

U.S. stocks ended higher in light trading Thursday, as a decline in oil prices and a proposed takeover of automaker Chrysler overcame caution before jobs data that held back share prices earlier.

News in the afternoon of a proposed offer for DaimlerChrysler's (DCX) Chrysler Group by billionaire Kirk Kerkorian helped to lift indexes. Shares of General Motors (GM) also rose after the news, boosting the Dow.

The blue-chip average posted its sixth day of gains, matching an advance in November. The Dow is now just about 70 points from its level just before the Feb. 27 global market sell-off, but volume was light ahead of the three-day holiday weekend.

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"The Kerkorian bid for Chrysler certainly looks like big news and given the fact the bid appears to be all for cash," said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist at New York brokerage Spencer Clarke. "I think this creates a serious buyer for the car company."

U.S. crude oil futures fell for a third day, with Iran tensions easing as the fourth largest oil exporter freed British military personnel after a two-week stand-off.

Stocks had been largely flat for most of the morning, with investors cautious ahead of the release of U.S. jobs data on Friday, which could shed light on the economy and the outlook for profits. The data follows this week's report on a gauge of the U.S. service sector, which showed anemic growth and a rise in price pressures.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 30.15 points, or 0.24 percent, at 12,560.20. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 4.39 points, or 0.30 percent, at 1,443.76. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 12.65 points, or 0.51 percent, at 2,471.34.

The S&P rose for a fourth day, while the Nasdaq was up for six days, both matching winning streaks of a little more than two months ago.

For the week, the Dow rose 1.7 percent, the S&P gained 1.6 percent and the Nasdaq jumped 2.1 percent.

The stock market will be closed Friday for Good Friday, but the U.S. government will release non-farm payrolls data. The median forecast among economists polled by Reuters was for a gain of 120,000 jobs, after a 97,000 increase in February. Economists forecast the unemployment rate to edge up to 4.6 percent from 4.5 percent in February.

U.S. crude oil fell as 15 British military personnel freed by Tehran arrived back in England. Crude slipped 10 cents to settle at $64.28 a barrel.

High oil prices raise concern about inflation and the depressing effect on economic growth, analysts said.

Investors, though, bought shares of companies that better withstand a slowing economy. Kraft Foods Inc. was up 2.8 percent at $31.58, while drug company Johnson & Johnson , up 0.4 percent at $61.55.

DaimlerChrysler's U.S. shares rose to their highest point since July 1999. They closed up 5.3 percent at $84.80.

Shares of General Motors rose 2.8 percent to $31.90.

Trading was well below average on the New York Stock Exchange, with about 1.25 billion shares changing hands, below last year's estimated daily average of 1.84 billion. On Nasdaq, about 1.6 billion shares traded, below last year's daily average of 2.02 billion.

Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones by a ratio of about 5 to 3 on the NYSE and by 16 to 13 on Nasdaq.

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