Manufacturing survey pushes stocks higher

Stocks closed higher Thursday after news that manufacturing in the U.S. is expanding at a rapid clip.

A private survey showed that manufacturing grew at the fastest pace in almost four years in February. Also, Safeway rose 2 percent after the grocer said it was in talks to put itself up for sale. Facebook rose 2 percent after announcing a deal to buy the messaging service WhatsApp for $19 billion.

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 92 to 16,133. The S&P 500 index rose 11 to 1,839. The Nasdaq composite rose 29 points, or 0.7 percent, to 4,267.

Weak outlook on sales shortfall for Walmart

Much like its lower-income shoppers, Walmart can't seem to catch a break as the U.S. economy rebounds.

The world's largest retailer on Thursday posted a 21 percent drop in fourth-quarter profit and gave a subdued forecast for the current year.

Winter has been marked by severe weather and slow holiday spending. Competition from dollar stores and grocers also has chipped away sales. And Walmart said the Nov. 1 expiration of a temporary boost in food stamps is hurting its shoppers' ability to spend.

Walmart said it will sharpen its focus on everyday low prices. It also said it will speed growth plans for its Neighborhood Markets and Walmart Express smaller stores.

Panama Canal work on expansion is resuming

The administrator of the Panama Canal said work would resume Thursday on a major expansion of the canal two weeks after it was halted over a disagreement with a contractor on $1.6 billion in cost overruns. A final agreement on how to finance the remaining work on a set of new locks hasn't been reached.

The $5.25 billion expansion project aims to allow extra-large ships to use the canal and cut travel time between Asia and the eastern U.S.

HP's earnings, revenue better than projected

Hewlett-Packard Co. reported results for its latest quarter that topped Wall Street's forecasts.

Net income in the fiscal first quarter rose 16 percent to $1.43 billion, or 74 cents a share. Excluding charges, adjusted earnings came to 90 cents a share. Analysts expected 85 cents.

Revenue dipped 1 percent to $28.15 billion, but it was flat excluding currency effects. Analysts expected $27.2 billion.

Consumer prices rose just slightly last month

U.S. consumer prices barely rose last month as a sharp increase in energy costs was offset by cheaper clothing, cars and air fares. The figures indicate inflation remains mild.

The Labor Department said Thursday the consumer price index rose 0.1 percent in January, down from a 0.2 percent gain in December.

Average mortgage rate edges higher to 4.33%

Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages rose this week but remained near historically low levels. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate for the 30-year loan increased to 4.33 percent from 4.28 percent last week. The average for the 15-year mortgage edged up to 3.35 percent from 3.33 percent.

Sbarro says it will close 155 pizza locations

Sbarro is closing 155 of its U.S. locations, mostly in mall food courts where traffic has declined. The pizza chain said Thursday's closures affect 1,400 workers. Its only local store, in North Charleston, remains open.

Staff and wire reports