Traders have largely shrugged off the latest economic reports, however, including a report from the Labor Department showing that initial jobless claims remained at an elevated level last week.
The Labor Department said that initial jobless claims in the week ended March 21st rose to 652,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 644,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to rise to 650,000 from the 646,000 originally reported for the previous week.
The report also showed that continuing claims in the week ended March 14th rose to another new record high of 5.560 million from the preceding week's revised level of 5.438 million.
Additionally, the Commerce Department's final report on fourth quarter gross domestic product showed that the economy contracted a little faster than previously estimated, although the revised drop in GDP was not quite as steep as economists had been expecting.
The report released on Thursday showed that GDP fell by a revised 6.3 percent in the fourth quarter compared to the preliminary estimate of a 6.2 percent decrease. Economists had been expecting GDP to be revised to show a somewhat steeper 6.6 percent contraction.
Later, focus will shift to Capitol Hill, where Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is expected to push for the establishment of a resolution authority that would give the Treasury sweeping powers to shut down or reorganize failing financial institutions that pose a threat to the country's financial system.
Meanwhile, President Obama's auto task force reportedly believes that there is viable future for ailing automakers General Motors Corp. (GM) and Chrysler LLC and would rather recommend additional assistance for the auto companies than let them fall into bankruptcy.
On the corporate front, IBM (IBM) plans to cut about 5,000 jobs in the United States, media reports said Wednesday, quoting sources familiar with the matter.
Also, on Wednesday, Moody's Investors Service slashed the debt rating of Bank of America Corp. (BAC) and Wells Fargo & Co (WFC) and downgraded the preferred stock ratings of both banks to junk status.
Meanwhile, electronics retailer, Best Buy (BBY) released fourth quarter earnings that fell to $1.61 per share from $1.71 in the same quarter last year. However, analysts had only expected earnings of $1.40 per share.
In international news, bankers in London's financial district have been warned to dress casually in order to avoid violent attacks as next week's G-20 Summit in London has city officials dreading protests. Office managers have been told to re-schedule unnecessary meetings and those who can telecommute from home have been encouraged to do so.
Stocks experienced considerable volatility over the course of the trading day on Wednesday, with the major averages eventually closing firmly in positive territory. The choppy trading came as traders digested some strong economic data combined with weak demand for a treasury auction.
After seeing some strength in morning trading, the major averages bounced back and forth across the unchanged line in the afternoon. The Dow ultimately finished the session up about 90 points after moving in a more than 300-point range.
Crude oil futures are trading up $0.90 at $53.67 a barrel after receding $1.21 to $52.77 a barrel on Wednesday, when they declined in reaction to the weekly oil inventory report. Data for the week ended March 20th showed that crude oil stockpiles rose by 3.3 million barrels.
Meanwhile, gold futures are currently up $4.20 at $942.20 an ounce. In the previous session, the precious metal rose $12 to $938 an ounce.
On the currency front, the U.S. dollar is trading at 98.24 yen compared to the 97.5355 yen it was worth at the close of New York trading on Wednesday. The dollar is currently valued at $1.3613 versus the euro.
In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region closed mostly higher on Thursday, benefiting from the higher close on Wall Street overnight. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index more than offset the modest loss it posted on Wednesday, closing up 1.8 percent.
The major European markets are currently turning in a mixed performance, with the German DAX Index posting a modest gain, while the while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 and the French CAC 40 Index are currently down 0.2 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively.
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