Uncertainty continues to prevail on Wall Street during early afternoon trading on Thursday, as investors respond to a mixed bag of corporate and economic news that has left investors guessing on the true state of the economy.

Before the start of trading, financial services giant JP Morgan (JPM) released its first quarter financial results, reporting earnings that fell year-over-year but came in above analyst estimates.

JP Morgan reported first-quarter net income of $2.14 billion or $0.40 per share compared to $2.37 billion or $0.67 per share in the year ago quarter. Analysts had expected the company to report earnings of $0.32 per share. Revenues also beat expectations for the quarter.

Additionally, mobile phone giant Nokia (NOK) is moving higher despite reporting first quarter earnings that fell sharply year-over-year. The company said its earnings for the quarter fell to 3 euro cents per share from 32 euro cents per share last year.

Nokia also said that it expects second quarter worldwide mobile device volume to be flat or show modest sequential growth.

In economic news, initial jobless claims fell by much more than economists had been expecting in the week ended April 11th, according to the weekly report from the Labor Department. Unfortunately, the report also showed that continuing claims rose to another record high.

Initial jobless claims fell to 610,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 663,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to edge up 658,000 from the 654,000 originally reported for the previous week.

At the same time, the Labor Department said that continuing claims in the week ended April 4th rose to 6.022 million from the preceding week's revised level of 5.850 million.

Meanwhile, a Commerce Department report showed that housing starts fell by much more than expected in the month of March, offsetting some of the recent optimism about stabilization in the housing market.

The report showed that housing starts fell 10.8 percent to an annual rate of 510,000 in March from the revised February estimate of 572,000. Economists had expected starts to slip to 540,000 from the 583,000 originally reported for the previous month.

Separately, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve said its index of regional manufacturing activity rose to a negative 24.4 in April from a negative 35.0 in March. While a negative reading indicates a contraction in the sector, the index increased by much more than expected.

In recent trading, the Dow briefly peeked above the unchanged line, but it has moved back to the downside since then and is currently down 11.39 at 8,018.23. On the other hand, the Nasdaq is up 13.77 at 1,640.57 and the S&P 500 is up 1.26 at 853.32.

Sector News

While many of the major sectors are experiencing choppy trading along with the broader markets, significant weakness is visible in the gold sector. The Amex Gold Bugs Index is currently down 5.4 percent, falling to its worst intraday level in almost a month.

Agnico-Eagle Mines (AEM) is helping to lead the gold sector lower, with the gold miner currently down 7.3 percent. With the decline, shares of Agnico-Eagle are currently poised to end the session at a three-month closing low.

Airline stocks are also posting noteworthy losses on the day, led lower by a 11.5 percent drop by Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV). The company reported a loss for the first quarter that was wider than expected. The Amex Airline Index is down 1.4 percent.

While health insurance and healthcare provider stocks are also seeing some weakness, computer hardware stocks are holding onto strong gains. With Palm (PALM) leading the way higher, the Amex Computer Hardware Index is currently up 3.1 percent.

Significant strength is also visible in a number of other technology-related sectors, helping to keep the tech-heavy Nasdaq firmly in positive territory. Some networking, internet, and wireless stocks are posting notable gains.

Railroad and housing stocks are also posting strong gains, with the strength in the housing sector coming in spite of the weak housing starts report.

Stocks In The News

Harley-Davidson (HOG) is posting a 8.8 percent gain after the motorcycle maker reported first quarter earnings that fell year-over-year but reaffirmed its shipment outlook for 2009. At its high for the session, Harley-Davidson was at its best intraday level in over three months.

The company reaffirmed its plans to ship between 264,000 and 273,000 Harley-Davidson motorcycles to dealers worldwide in 2009. The company plans to ship 55,000 to 59,000 Harley-Davidson motorcycles during the second quarter of 2009.

Additionally, Sherwin-Williams (SHW) is posting a gain of 7.9 percent following the release of strong first quarter results that came in better than analysts had anticipated. The company posted first quarter net income of $0.32 per share, compared $0.64 per share in the previous year period. Analysts expected the company to report earnings of $0.21 per share.

Meanwhile, Polycom Inc. (PLCM) is suffering a 4.8 percent decline after the company reported worse-than-expected unadjusted first-quarter earnings.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, the stocks markets across the Asia-Pacific region turned in another mixed performance on Thursday, with most of the markets in the region pulling back off their highs after seeing early strength.

Meanwhile, the major European markets are holding just off their intraday highs. The French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index are up 1.8 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively, while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index is posting a 2.1 percent gain.

In the bond market, treasuries have come off their lows of the day but remain below the unchanged line. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark 10-year note is up 4 basis points at 2.799 percent.

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