Stocks are continuing to see noteworthy gains during mid-afternoon trading on Thursday as investors react positively to a bombardment of economic and corporate news.

The major averages are holding near their intraday highs, with the Dow holding above the 8,000 level, up 204.77 to 8,041.88. The Nasdaq is posting a gain of 54.24 at 1,644.90 and the S&P 500 is 25.02 points higher at 850.18.

In an interview with RTT News, Art Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Company called the rally something more substantial than a near term rally in a bear market.

Hogan said that the market has a path of least resistance to the upside, though warned it will be working its way through a lot of noise over the next several weeks.

Hogan predicts that the first quarter earnings season is going to be bad, but better than expected and said once the reporting season is over and second quarter estimates are adjusted, the market will continue its rally into the middle of the year.

Financials are leading the markets higher, boosted by a couple of pieces of good news from the sector. Better-than-expected economic news is also giving a boost to Wall Street.

On the corporate front, Wells Fargo (WFC) released preliminary quarterly results that crushed what analysts were expecting. The company said it now expects to report first quarter earnings of $3 billion or $0.55 per share compared to analyst estimates of $0.23 per share.

Additionally, Barclays plc (BCS) is helping to lead financials higher as well, after the company announced an agreement for the sale of its iShares business to Blue Sparkle LP, a new limited partnership established by CVC Capital Partners Group SICAV-FIS S.A. The purchase price for the deal was about $4.4 billion.

Meanwhile, a report from the U.S. Labor Department showed that jobless claims fell to 654,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 674,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to edge down to 660,000 from the 669,000 originally reported for the previous week.

However, the Labor Department also said that continuing claims rose to a new record high of 5.840 million in the week ended March 28th from the preceding week's revised level of 5.745 million.

Additionally, the Commerce Department said that the U.S. trade deficit narrowed to $26.0 billion in February from $36.2 billion in January. Economists had been expecting the trade deficit to come in at $36.0 billion.

Dow Components

The significant rise in the Dow comes as the majority of its components are posting notable gains on the day. As the broader markets are led higher by the banking sector, as is the blue chip index.

Bank of America (BAC) is turning in one of the best performances of the session with a gain of 28.2 percent on the day. With the advance, the stock has risen to its highest level in nearly three months.

Other stocks in the financial sector are also posting some of the strongest gains in the Dow, with American Express (AXP) up 13.7 percent, while JP Morgan (JPM) and Citigroup (C) are posting gains of 11.6 percent and 10.7 percent, respectively.

Additionally, Caterpillar (CAT), General Electric (GE), and Alcoa (AA) are also seeing considerable strength, up 9.5 percent, 8.8 percent, and 8.3 percent, respectively.

At the other end of the spectrum, Wal-Mart (WMT) is one of the biggest losers in the Dow, suffering a loss of 3.4 percent after the company released sales results that failed to impress investors.

Merck (MRK) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) are also posting modest losses on the day, with Merck down 1.1 percent and Johnson & Johnson down 0.3 percent.

Sector News

Financial stocks continue to lead the markets higher, but many other sectors are seeing considerable strength during the session as well. Some of the biggest gains of the day are coming out of the real estate sector, helping to drive the Morgan Stanley REIT Index up 8.7 percent.

Within the index, Macerich Co. (MAC) is turning in one of the best performances, up 18.2 percent on the day. With the advance, the stock has risen to is highest level in over a month.

Housing, airline, and steel stocks are also showing considerable strength during the session. The Philadelphia Housing Index is up 7.8 percent, while the Amex Airline Index and the Amex Steel Index are up 7.1 percent each.

Meanwhile, utility stocks remain some of the only losers on the day, pushing the Philadelphia Utility Index down 1.2 percent.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region showed strong upward moves on Thursday, benefiting from some optimism about the outlook for the global economy. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index closed up 3.7 percent.

The major European markets also ended Thursday's session higher, with the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index closing up 1.5 percent, while the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index posted gains of 1.8 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively.

In the bond market, treasuries have come well off their lows of the day, but remain below the unchanged line. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark 10-year note is up 7.9 basis points at 2.926 percent.

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