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Stocks listless after unexpected jump in jobless claims

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Stocks notched slim gains in rangebound trading on Thursday, stretching an improbable win streak into a third day as traders struggled to decipher the meaning behind a surprise rise in unemployment.

Thursday’s session completed three consecutive days of gains, part of the market’s attempt to calibrate a resurgence of COVID-19 cases against a red-hot economic expansion that continues to gain momentum. Even amid the turmoil and uncertainty, the major benchmarks are within striking distance of record highs set just over a week ago.

Sentiment took a hit after data Thursday showed an unexpected jump in jobless claims, which last week set a fresh pandemic-era low. New unemployment filings jumped to 419,000 in the latest week, well above consensus estimates of 360,000.

Since the onset of COVID-19, the data series has served as an avatar of the labor market’s health, and could take on new importance if rising infections start to trigger new restrictions — which…

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