Dow closes above 16,000 for the first time

NEW YORK - The Dow Jones industrial average reached a record close Thursday, gaining 109 points to end trading at 16,010. The Nasdaq composite gained 48 points to 3,969.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 14 points to 1,795, just shy of the 1,800 milestone it briefly hit earlier in the week. That index is heading for what could be its biggest annual gain in a decade, making investors wary of pushing stocks higher. 

The stock market has struggled this week as investors grapple with the prospect of the Federal Reserve reducing its stimulus as well as some disappointing corporate earnings. But encouraging job news cheered Wall Street on Thursday. 

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell to the lowest since September. First-time applications for benefits dropped by 21,000 last week, the Labor Department reported, the latest sign that the U.S. job market is recovering. The number of applications, which is a proxy for how many workers are being laid off, is now near where it was before the Great Recession.

General Motors (GM) rose after the U.S. government said it expects to sell its remaining stake in the company by the end of the year. The Treasury Department still owns 31.3 million shares of the auto giant after bailing it out five years ago. GM gained $1.07, or 2.8 percent, to $38.76.

Johnson Controls (JCI) was among the biggest gainers in early trading after the company, which makes heating and ventilation systems for buildings, said its board approved at $3 billion increase in its share repurchase program. Johnson Controls rose $2.80, or 5.9 percent, to $51.10.

In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year note edged down to 2.79 percent from 2.80 percent Wednesday. The yield, which is a benchmark used to set interest rates on many kinds of loans, including home mortgages, is the highest it's been since Sept. 17.

In commodities trading, the price of oil rose $1.28, or 1.4 percent, to $95.11 a barrel. Gold dropped $16.40, or 1.3 percent, to $1,241.70 an ounce.