A trio of U.S. economic reports brought a mixed bag of data:
The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 16,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 326,000. Despite the increase, the number remains close to prerecession levels and points to stable hiring.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, inched up 250 to 319,500.
In Florida, the number rose 1,698, due to layoffs in agriculture, construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, retailing and services.
U.S. service firms expanded more quickly last month as new orders rose and hiring increased, a positive sign the economy is rebounding after an unusually cold winter.
The Institute for Supply Management said Thursday that its service-sector index rose to 53.1 in March from 51.6 in February. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.
The U.S. trade deficit climbed to the highest level in five months in February as demand for U.S. exports fell and imports increased slightly.
The deficit increased to $42.3 billion, which was 7.7 percent above the January imbalance of $39.3 billion, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.
U.S. exports slipped 1.1 percent to $190.4 billion as sales of commercial aircraft, computers and farm goods fell.