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Jul 24, 12:33 PM EDT

Stocks inch higher at midday after United, Ford report better results; homebuilders hit hard

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NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. stocks edged higher in midday trading Thursday as investors digested second-quarter results from companies across several industries, including Facebook, Ford and Caterpillar.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average rose 17 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,104 as of 12:15 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose two points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,989. The Nasdaq composite climbed two points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,475. For every 10 stocks that rose, seven fell.

FACEBOOK SURGES: Facebook rose $4.97, or 7 percent, to $76.28 after reporting a profit late Wednesday that beat expectations. Mobile advertising, a crucial business for the world's largest social media company, saw major growth in the quarter.

THE AUTOMAKERS: Ford rose 15 cents, or 1 percent, to $17.93 after it said second-quarter earnings rose 6 percent to $1.3 billion. The company was helped by sales gains in Europe. General Motors fell $1.21, or 3 percent, to $36.20 after it reported an 85-percent drop in quarterly earnings. The automaker, in the midst of the worst recall crisis in its history, posted a net profit of $190 million.

CAT FALL: Dow member Caterpillar fell $3.85, or 4 percent, to $104.54. The construction equipment maker said its quarterly profit rose 4.1 percent, which beat expectations. However, its revenue fell short of forecasts.

HURT HOMEBUILDERS: Homebuilder stocks fell Thursday after the Commerce Department reported that new home sales dropped precipitously. New home sales fell 8.1 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 406,000. The report also revised down the May sales rate to 442,000 from 504,000. Pulte Homes and KB Home fell 2 percent while Toll Brothers fell 4 percent.

FEWER JOBLESS CLAIMS: Also on the economic front, investors got some good news about jobs. The Labor Department reported weekly applications for unemployment aid dropped 19,000 to a seasonally adjusted 284,000 claims. That's the lowest reading since February 2006, nearly two years before the Great Recession began.

BONDS AND OIL: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note nudged up to 2.51 percent from 2.47 percent late Wednesday. Bond yields rise when prices fall. U.S. crude oil fell 48 cents to $102.63 a barrel in New York.

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