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S&P 500 closes near four-year high

Traders on the floor of the New York

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday. The markets have been making small gains on reports that indicate the U.S. economy is recovering. (Aug. 15, 2012) Credit: AP

Encouraging earnings from Cisco and hopeful signs in a housing report lifted the stock market Thursday. The gains nudged the Standard & Poor's 500 index near the four-year high it reached earlier this year.

Cisco Systems, the world's largest maker of computer networking equipment, led the 30 stocks in the Dow Jones industrial average, surging 10 percent. Cisco beat profit expectations late Wednesday and raised its quarterly dividend to 14 cents per share from 8 cents. Cisco gained $1.67 to $19.02.

Before the market opened Thursday, the Commerce Department reported that construction of single-family homes and apartments dipped 1.1 percent in July compared with June.

But market analysts seized on another number: Building permits jumped to 812,000, the most since August 2008 and a hint of stronger construction in coming months.

"I think the housing numbers really got investors' attention," said Tim Speiss, chairman of the personal wealth advisers practice at EisnerAmper.The report helped push the S&P and Dow near their highest closing levels since 2007.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 0.71 percent to close at 1,415.51, less than four points shy of its April 2 high. The Dow rose 85.33 points to 13,250.11, an increase of 0.65 percent and 29 points away from its May 1 peak of 13,279.

In other trading, the Nasdaq composite index rose 1.04 percent to 3,062.39.

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