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Morning Market Roundup: Unemployment Applications Up, Exxon Pledges Billions to Find Oil, Greece Nears Deadline


Here’s what’s important in the financial world this morning:

Stocks: Stocks are opening higher as an increase in applications for unemployment benefits last week failed to dampen optimism over progress toward easing Greece's debt burden.

The Labor Department said early Thursday that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose more than expected. The four-week average remained near a four-year low.

Investors are keeping their eyes on a 3 p.m. EST deadline for private investors to decide whether to swap $140 billion in Greek government bonds for new ones worth much less. Early signs are indicating that the swap will succeed.

The Dow is up 75 points at 12,913 in the first 10 minutes of trading. The S&P 500 is up 9 at 1,362. The Nasdaq is up 19 at 2,955.

European Union: The European Central Bank left its key interest rate unchanged Thursday at a record low of 1 percent, holding off on further measures to boost the shaky economy in the 17 countries that use the euro.

ECB head Mario Draghi said the eurozone economy was showing "signs of stabilization." He also made his outlook for the economy slightly less pessimistic, dropping the word "tentative" from his remarks to reporters that he used to describe the signs in last month's assessment.

He also said that Eurozone inflation was likely to stay above the bank's goal of just under 2 percent for all of this year. Last month the annual rate crept up to 2.7 percent for the eurozone.

Housing: Fixed mortgages remain at record lows at the start of the spring-buying season. The average rate on the 30-year mortgage dipped last week, while the 15-year loan fell to a new record low.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the rate on the 30-year loan ticked down to 3.88 percent, from 3.90 percent the previous week. That's slightly above the 3.87 percent average rate hit three weeks ago, which was the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s.

The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage fell to 3.13 percent, from 3.17 percent a week ago.

Rates on the 30-year loan have been below 4 percent for three months. That has made home-buying and refinancing more attractive for those who can qualify.

Oil: Exxon said Thursday that it will spend about $150 billion over the next five years to find more oil and natural gas to meet an expected increase in global energy demand.

In a statement issued ahead of a presentation at the New York Stock Exchange, CEO Rex Tillerson said huge investments are needed to expand the supply of traditional fuels like oil and gas while also advancing new energy sources. Exxon, the world's largest publicly traded energy company, expects global energy demand to increase 30 percent by 2040, compared with 2010 levels.

Including investments in its refining and chemicals business, Exxon will boost its capital budget by 29 percent from 2012 to 2016 to $185 billion, or about $37 billion a year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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