NEW YORK -- Stocks edged higher on Wall Street as investors took advantage of a slump Wednesday to get back into the market.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 35 points, or 0.2 percent, to 14,585 as of 3:03 p.m. EDT Thursday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose four points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,557.
The Dow regained about a third of its loss from Wednesday, when it fell 111 points, its biggest drop in more than a month, following weak reports on hiring and service industries.
"Investors have been looking for a reason to sell, given the rally we've seen in the market in the past couple of months," said Joseph Tanious at JPMorgan Funds. "Today, you're seeing investors come back into the market and buy on the dip."
The stock market got off to a strong start in 2013. The Dow climbed 10 percent in the first three months of the year and closed at a record high of 14,662 Tuesday. Investors were encouraged by signs that the housing market was recovering and that hiring was picking up.
The market continued a steady advance through the first two weeks of March, but since then indexes have been alternating between gains and losses on a nearly daily basis as investors' confidence in the U.S. economic recovery weakened.
There was more discouraging economic news Thursday. The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose to a four-month high of 385,000 last week, the Labor Department said. The government will issue its employment report Friday, which investors look at closely for insight into how the U.S. economy is doing.
"The trend seems to be worsening," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. "We're seeing a little hesitation in anticipation of tomorrow's job report."
Safer industry groups rose Thursday. Telecommunications companies, materials and utilities led the gains for the S&P 500, rising 1.3 percent, 0.8 percent and 0.7 percent respectively.
So-called defensive industries, such as health care, consumer staples and utilities, which have stable earnings and dividends, have led the market rally this year. Investors have been seeking out stocks that give them similar characteristics to debt investments after a powerful rally in bonds over the last year pushed yields sharply lower. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note has traded below 2 percent for nearly all of the last year.
The 10-year yield fell to 1.77 percent Thursday from 1.81 percent a day earlier. It went as low as 1.76 percent, its lowest level of the year. The note's yield has fallen over the last month as demand for less risky assets increased following the financial crisis in Cyprus and signs of a slowdown in the U.S. The yield was as high as 2.06 percent on March 11.
Japanese stocks jumped and the yen sank after the country's central bank announced aggressive measures for getting the world's third-largest economy out of a two-decade slump. The Bank of Japan, under new Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, surprised markets by saying it would greatly increase the country's money supply with the goal of encouraging people and businesses to borrow and spend. The yen weakened 3.5 percent against the dollar, to 96.16 yen, while Tokyo's Nikkei stock index rose 2.2 percent to 12,634.54.
U.S.-listed shares of Japanese automakers rose sharply. A weaker yen would make Japanese vehicles less expensive in markets outside Japan, and therefore more competitive. The U.S. shares of Toyota rose $4.47, or 4.4 percent, to $105.31, Honda's rose $1.88, or 5.1 percent, to $39.08 and the Nissan's rose 84 cents, 4.5 percent, to $19.66. Japanese electronics makers also rose. Sony rose 47 cents, or 3 percent, to $16.90 and Panasonic rose 18 cents, also 3 percent, to $6.61.
In other trading, the Nasdaq composite fell half a point to 3,218.
Among stocks making big moves, electronics retailer Best Buy jumped $3.02, or 14 percent, to $24.66 after saying it would collaborate with the Korean smartphone and tablet maker Samsung to open kiosks in its stores.
MetroPCS rose 22 cents, or 2 percent, to $11.16 after Reuters reported that Deutsche Telekom is considering amending the terms of the proposed merger between its T-Mobile USA business and local rival Metro PCS.
Facebook rose 83 cents to $27.08 after the social network site unveiled a new product for Android phones that will bring content to users on the phone's home screen. More Android integration could help Facebook Inc. attract more mobile advertisers.