Retail stocks gained ground today as investors looked ahead to Friday’s job report.

With a half hour of trading left on Wall Street, the S&P 500 Retailing Industry Group was up 0.9 percent, or 6.79 points, to 778.52, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was ahead 0.2 percent, or 26.11 points, to 14,986.70.

The day’s gainers included Zale Corp., up 6.8 percent to $8.04; Fifth & Pacific Cos. Inc., 2.1 percent to $21.32; Tumi Holdings Inc., 1.8 percent to $23.89, and Macy’s Inc., 1.7 percent to $48.18.

Running counter trend were Ascena Retail Group Inc., down 8.9 percent to $18.09 after the company missed third-quarter profit projections, and Vera Bradley Inc., which fell 7.8 percent to $20.71 after the firm said chief executive Michael Ray would step down. The retailer also lowered its profit outlook for the year.

The Labor Department said first-time jobless claims fell by 11,000 last week to 346,000, slightly less than the 12,000 decline economists projected.

But that’s just a warm up. Investors are keenly awaiting Friday’s May employment update, which is projected to show 170,000 new jobs with unemployment steady at 7.5 percent.

Good news on the employment front could be bad news to investors, who are watching the Federal Reserve closely to gauge when the central bank thinks the economy is strong enough to raise interest rates.
European stock markets also lost ground, with Milan’s FTSE MIB leading the slide.

The Italian market sank 2.6 percent to 16,525.07 as the FTSE 100 in London fell 1.3 percent to 6,336.11, the DAX in Frankfurt fell 1.2 percent to 8,098.81 and the CAC 40 in Paris declined 1 percent to 3,814.28.

The euro traded at $1.31 against the dollar, while the pound fetched $1.53 and the Swiss franc equaled $1.06.

Retail and luxury stocks were mostly down, with the exception of, which advanced 1.8 percent to 15.70 euros.

Among the day’s biggest decliners were French Connection Group, down 3.2 percent to 0.30 pounds; Geox, 2.1 percent to 1.97 euros; and Marks & Spencer Group, 2.5 percent to 4.42 pounds.