* Indexes up: Dow 0.3 pct, S&P 0.1 pct, Nasdaq 0.03 pct
* Investors consolidate after this week’s record highs
* Initial jobless claims unexpectedly fell last week
By Leah Schnurr
NEW YORK, March 7 (Reuters) - Wall Street was slightly higher on Thursday, buoyed by data that suggested a pick-up in the labor market recovery, as investors attempted to push the rally in equities further.
The Dow hit an intraday record for the third session in a row, climbing as high as 14,344.95 after initially breaking into uncharted territory on Tuesday. The broader S&P 500 sits more than 1 percent below its record close.
A strengthening economy and loose monetary policy by central banks around the world have pushed U.S. stocks higher this year. While some expect the market will ease off its current lofty levels, so far dips have been short-lived as investors look for an opportunity to buy.
That could leave the market moving sideways in the short term.
“After the initial enthusiasm wears off from hitting the new high, it’s not unusual for people to clear the decks and look ahead,” said Brian Gendreau, market strategist with Cetera Financial Group, based in Los Angeles.
That leaves investors with a mixed picture, said Gendreau. The economy is improving but growth is sluggish, Washington continues to debate the path of fiscal policy, and risks remain from the euro zone debt crisis.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 42.98 points, or 0.30 percent, to 14,339.22. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index edged up 1.50 points, or 0.10 percent, at 1,542.96. The Nasdaq Composite Index added 1.07 points, or 0.03 percent, to 3,223.44.
The latest economic data was encouraging, as the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week to a seasonally adjusted 340,000. It was the second straight week of declines.
Investor attention will remain on the labor market ahead of Friday’s non-farm payroll report, which is expected to show the economy added 160,000 jobs in February. While it has been a soft spot in the economic recovery, the labor market is seen as healing slowly.
Network equipment maker Ciena jumped 13.7 percent to $16.98 after it reported a smaller quarterly loss.
Teen apparel retailer Hot Topic Inc said it will be bought by private equity firm Sycamore Partners for about $600 million. Shares surged 29 percent to $13.87