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Dow approaches highest level since 2008 crisis

NEW YORK (AP) - The Dow Jones industrial average is trading near its highest close since the financial crisis. Solid news on factory orders and strong earnings reports from U.S. manufacturers are helping the market at midday.

Broader indexes are edging lower, but they're still much higher for the week and the month.

The government said early Thursday that orders for long-lasting manufactured goods rose for a second straight month in December. The Commerce Department reports durable goods orders rose 3 percent in December as business stepped up spending on machinery and other capital goods.

Meanwhile, the Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators rose 0.4 percent last month. Economist Ken Goldstein says the reading supports a cautious optimism for the economy in the first half of 2012.

And the Labor Department says first time claims for unemployment benefits increased last week. But the four week average, which is less volatile, continues to fall.

3M stock is up 1.5 percent and Caterpillar 3 percent after each big manufacturer reported quarterly profits that exceeded analysts' expectations.

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