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Stocks Log Gains Ahead of Jobs Report

Sector rallies despite tepid September sales.

Retail stocks gained ground Thursday as investors looked past mostly tepid September sales to Friday’s update on the job market.

The S&P Retailing Industry Group rose 0.9 percent, or 5.73 points, to 668.44 as the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.6 percent, or 80.75 points, to 13,575.36.

Picking up steam were Chico’s FAS Inc., up 4 percent to $18.69; Tumi Holdings Inc., 3.9 percent to $23.91; Oxford Industries Inc., 3.5 percent to $57.26; Hot Topic Inc., 3.4 percent to $9.05, and Express Inc., 3.4 percent to $11.71.

None of those companies reported sales for September. Fitch Ratings described the reports from those that did report as “subdued,” but “positive overall.”

“Given back-to-school results, we expect holiday retail sales to grow at 3 to 4 percent, versus 4.1 percent in 2011,” Fitch said. “The sluggish economic and employment environment coupled with high gas prices leads us to expect promotional activity will remain the key driver for consumer traffic. As a result, we expect gross margins to be flat to slightly down for most retailers.”

There is some hope that the job market will show signs of strength today, but economists expect the unemployment rate to rise to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent. The U.S. hasn’t seen unemployment below 8 percent since January 2009.

In Europe, stock markets ended their day on a broadly flat after the region’s central bankers decided to keep benchmark interest rates on ice.

The FTSE 100 in London climbed 0.03 percent to 5,827.78 as other major markets fell. The DAX in Frankfurt and the FTSE MIB in Milan both sank 0.2 percent, to 7,305.21 and to 15,511.25, respectively. The CAC 40 in Paris was down 0.1 percent to 3,401.20.

Retail and luxury stocks were up, with the high street and Internet stocks among the best performers. The gainers included Asos.com, which climbed 2.9 percent to 22.82 pounds; Zara’s parent Inditex, 2.7 percent to 99.35 euros; Yoox, 3.1 percent to 10.62 euros, and Marks and Spencer Group plc, 1 percent to 3.66 pounds.

The euro traded at $1.29 against the dollar while the pound traded at $1.61 and the Swiss franc traded at $1.07.

The Bank of England kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 0.5 percent and opted not to inject more money into the economy than the current 375 billion pound program, although the BBC reported that the bank could increase that figure next month.

On the Continent, the European Central Bank also opted to maintain its rate at a record low of 0.75 percent. The bank’s president, Mario Draghi, said the decision to keep the rate steady was unanimous.

Draghi also talked about the bank’s efforts to reduce rising interest rates in troubled European countries through a new bond-buying program and sought to dispel any doubts about the future of the common currency. “The euro is irreversible,” he said at a press conference in Slovenia.