Microsoft, Fed Boost Stocks

Honeywell rose $1.20 to $38.20 on reports GE had offered to sell a stake in one of its most prized units to win European Union antitrust clearance for its $41 billion purchase of Honeywell. GE and European regulators had previously indicated such approval was unlikely. GE rose 61 cents to $48.87. Both are Dow stocks.

And there was at least one sign that employment levels might be stabilizing. New claims for state unemployment insurance fell last week, the third sharp drop in a row, suggesting that the rash of layoffs seen so far this year may be moderating.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners slightly more than 3 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume came to 1.30 billion shares, ahead of the 1.14 billion shares reported on Wednesday.

International Trading

The Russell 2000 index, which tracks the performance of smaller company stocks, rose 7.41 to 502.99.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 1.2 percent. European stocks fared better. Germany's DAX index gained 2.4 percent, Britain's FT-SE 100 advanced 0.5 percent, and France's CAC-40 climbed 1.5 percent.

Wednesday’s Markets

Stocks finished mixed Wednesday, seesawing after the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point to help boost the sagging U.S. economy and left the door open for more reductions.

For the third session in a row, blue chips fell slightly and technology stocks eked out gains. Tech investors focused on an upbeat forecast by handheld computer maker Palm, which announced its business could turn the corner later this year.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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