Stocks edge higher as unemployment claims decline

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NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks are rising at midday after a decline in applications for unemployment benefits and strong bank earnings.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 29 points to 12,607 at noon Eastern Thursday. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 7 points to 1,314. The Nasdaq composite rose 23 points to 2,792.

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits plunged last week to the lowest level since April 2008, the latest sign the job market is strengthening.

Bank of America and Morgan Stanley rose after reporting results that were better than analysts had expected. BofA returned to profit in the fourth quarter while Morgan Stanley's loss was less than forecast.

Investors also drove up shares of Renewable Energy Group Inc., the nation's largest producer of biodiesel, in its market debut.