(By Balachander) U.S. stocks closed on a modestly higher note ahead of a key jobs data as investors watched for progress on budget talks in Washington.
The S&P 500 Index rose 0.33 percent to end at 1,413.94. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.30 percent to finish at 13,074.04. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 0.52 percent to close at 2,989.27.
The U.S. Labor Department's non-farm payrolls data is expected to show addition of just 93,000 jobs in November, a sharp drop from 171,000 jobs created in the previous month. Jobless rate is expected at 7.9 percent.
The number of Americans who continued to receive jobless benefits last week were fewer than forecast, a government data showed. Jobless claims fell 25,000 to 370,000 for the week ended Dec. 1 from a revised 395,000, and also came in lower than economists expectations of 380,000 applications.
Meanwhile, the European Central Bank (ECB) kept the key interest rate at a record-low of 0.75 percent. ECB reduced the growth outlook for the euro zone for 2012 and 2013, and it expects the economy to recover only in 2014.
Focus, however, remained on negotiations in Washington over a deal to avert the the looming "fiscal cliff". Investors continue to remain concerned over whether lawmakers in Washington will be able to reach an agreement to address the cliff. President Barack Obama has pushed for higher taxes on wealthy Americans to address the fiscal cliff of roughly $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases that could hit economic growth.
Hot Stocks Of The Day: AAPL, ZNGA, AKAM, LULU, MW, VRA, HRB, GRMN, FNSR
In corporate news, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) rebounded to end 1.56 percent higher after shares tumbled on Wednesday. Apple's Chief Executive Tim Cook has said that the tech giant will manufacture one of the existing Mac computers in the U.S. next year.
Zynga Inc. (NASDAQ: ZNGA) surged 7.76 percent. The company filed an application for a gaming license in Nevada to offer real-money games in the U.S, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Akamai Technologies Inc. (NASDAQ: AKAM) climbed 10.03 percent after the cloud infrastructure services company announced a strategic alliance with AT&T (NYSE: T) to distribute content delivery network (CDN) solutions.
Lululemon Athletica inc. (NASDAQ: LULU) gained 7.23 percent after posting a jump in earnings and revenue for the third quarter and the maker of athletics and yoga apparel raised its full-year forecast. However, the company guided fourth-quarter below consensus.
Men's Wearhouse Inc. (NYSE: MW) lost 2.68 percent after the specialty retailer posted third-quarter results that missed Wall Street projections and cut its earnings forecast due to lower-than-expected retail clothing sales in November.
Garmin Ltd. (NASDAQ: GRMN) rose 5.67 percent. The maker of navigation devices will replace R.R. Donnelley (NASDAQ: RRD) in the S&P 500 after the close of trading on Tuesday, December 11.
Vera Bradley Inc. (NASDAQ: VRA) slumped 11.71 percent after the maker of handbags and leisure items offered a downbeat guidance for the fourth quarter.
H&R Block Inc. (NYSE: HRB) reported a narrower quarterly loss due to lower costs and a 6 percent rise in revenue. Results exceeded Wall Street expectations. Shares of the tax service provider added 5.12 percent.
Finisar Corp. (NASDAQ: FNSR) gained 4.94 percent after the developer of fiber optic subsystems posted better-than-expected results for the second quarter.
European markets closed in green, with Germany's DAX gaining 1.07 percent to close at 7,534.54. France's CAC40 added 0.31 percent to finish at 3,601.65. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 rose 0.16 percent to end at 5,901.42.
Asian markets ended mixed, with China's Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index down 0.13 percent to finish at 2,029.24. Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.81 percent to finish at 9,545.16. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index dipped 0.09 percent to end at 22,249.81. India's BSE Sensex ended at 19,486.80, up 0.49 percent.
Commodity & Currency Scan
Crude oil futures tumbled 1.72 percent to $86.37 per barrel, and natural gas futures fell 1.32 percent to $3.65 per million metric British thermal units. Gold futures rose 0.39 percent to $1,700.4 per ounce and silver futures added 0.36 percent to $33.08 per ounce.
In the currency market, the euro dropped 0.77 percent against the U.S. dollar to 1.2968. The British pound shed 0.30 percent against the greenback to 1.6049, and the dollar slid 0.10 percent against the Japanese yen to 82.3900.