Stock markets mostly rise after positive signal on jobs

Investors were hoping for any reason to look past the cold weather that has hampered the U.S. economy for the past few weeks, and they found it.

Stocks mostly rose Thursday, lifted by a report that showed the number of people who filed for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in three months. The gains were enough to give the Standard & Poor’s 500 index its third all-time high this week.

The S&P 500 index rose 3.22 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,877.03. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 61.71 points, or 0.4 percent, to 16,421.89. The Nasdaq composite fell 5.85 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,352.13.

Disney Co. laying off 25% of its video games division

Walt Disney Co. is laying off 700 people from the interactive unit that makes video games and operates websites, about a quarter of the workforce in the division, a Disney spokesman confirmed Thursday.

The move narrows the company’s focus on mobile and social games that use key Disney characters. Some games that Disney acquired when it bought social game maker Playdom in 2010 for $563 million, such as Sorority Life, will be discontinued.

Disney Interactive had long been a money-losing unit. Last month, it posted only its third profitable quarter since results began being broken out in 2008, thanks in part to its Disney Infinity console game, which Disney will keep supporting.

Upward trend on fixed rates for mortgages comes to end

Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages fell after three weeks of increases, edging closer to historically low levels.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year loan declined to 4.28 percent from 4.37 percent last week. The average for the 15-year mortgage fell to 3.32 percent from 3.39 percent.

A report released Tuesday by real estate data provider CoreLogic showed that U.S. home prices rose 0.9 percent in January after three months of declines, as a tight supply of properties likely supported prices despite slower sales. Economists believe such outsize price gains might not continue much longer, however.

Grocery stock-ups ahead of storms benefit Kroger

Kroger said its ability to keep its supermarkets open and well-stocked as customers rushed to hoard groceries ahead of winter storms helped boost its results in the fourth quarter.

The nation’s largest supermarket operator said Thursday that a key sales figure climbed for the period, and the company issued a better-than-expected profit forecast for the year ahead. The company, which operates, Ralphs, Fry’s, Food 4 Less and other chains, noted that it sped up deliveries several days ahead of storms to ensure shelves would be replenished.

— From news service reports