Dow ends up as uncertainty keeps investors on sidelines

NEW YORK – Hewlett-Packard helped pull the Dow Jones industrial average to a slight gain Thursday, giving the index only its fourth gain this month.

Stocks flipped between gains and losses throughout the day after a meeting of European leaders failed to deliver new steps to ease the region’s debt crisis.

The Dow closed up 33.60 points at 12,529.75. Fears that Europe’s troubles could turn into a worldwide financial crisis have pushed the 30-stock average down 5 percent this month, erasing most of its gains for the year.

U.S economic news gave traders little direction. Orders for long-lasting factory goods edged up in April, but a key category that tracks business investment spending fell for the second month in a row. The number of people applying for unemployment benefits dipped last week.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index edged up 1.82 to 1,320.68. The Nasdaq composite index fell 10.74 points to 2,839.38.

The potential for bad news to roil markets is so high that many investors would prefer to sit it out, said Stephen Carl, head equity trader at the Williams Capital Group.

“Uncertainty is playing a big part here,” Carl said. “You don’t know which way things are going to go.”

Fox sues Dish Network over its ad-stripping DVR service

LOS ANGELES – Broadcaster Fox is suing Dish Network over a service that offers commercial-free TV.

Dish has been advertising a digital video recorder service called “Primetime Anytime” that gives consumers access to the last eight days of prime-time programming from the four major broadcast networks with the commercials stripped out.

In a suit filed Thursday in a Los Angeles federal court, Fox, a unit of News Corp., says Dish’s service is unauthorized and violates a licensing agreement between the two companies. It argues that if a court doesn’t stop it, the service will destroy the economic foundation of shows that are supported by ad revenue.

A Dish spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Requests for jobless aid held steady last week, U.S. reports

WASHINGTON – The number of people seeking unemployment benefits changed little last week, signaling modest job growth.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for benefits dipped by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 370,000.

Applications have leveled off this month after declining from April’s five-month high of 392,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, has also dropped — it was 370,000 last week.

The lower level indicates hiring could pick up in May from April’s sluggish pace. When applications drop below 375,000 a week, it typically suggests hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

Ian Shepherdson, an economist at High Frequency Economics, said applications should fall soon, given that some recent data indicate the economy is improving.

“We think it is just a matter of time … before claims start to drop back down again,” he said in a note to clients.

— From news service reports