After moving sharply higher over the course of morning trading, stocks are seeing continued strength in early afternoon on Thursday. The upward move comes as traders express some optimism about the outlook for the economy despite some weak employment news.

Before the start of trading, the Labor Department said that initial jobless claims in the week ended March 28th unexpectedly rose to 669,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 657,000. With the increase, jobless claims rose to a new twenty-six year high.

While the data added to concerns about Friday's monthly employment report, Peter Boockvar of Miller Tabak noted, Participants are looking past this employment data and placing their chips on the 'worst is over' belief and the still worsening labor market is a lagging indicator.

Additionally, a report from the Commerce Department showing that factory orders rose 1.8 percent in February added to recent signs of a stabilization in the economy, although the report also showed a notable downward revision to the data for January.

The rally on Wall Street also comes as traders keep an eye on the Group of 20 Summit in London, where world leaders have pledged to do whatever necessary to end the economic crisis.

Addressing the media, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the summit was very productive and that the issues that people thought divided us did not divide us at all.

There was substantial agreement on the need for us to do whatever is necessary to return to growth, he said.

Brown noted that G20 members have agreed to a fiscal stimulus worth around $5 trillion, as well as to triple funding to the International Monetary Fund to $750 billion in order to assist poor nations at this trying time.

In an interview with RTT News, Donald Selkin, chief investment strategist at National Securities, called the current rally the end of the bear market. I do believe the lows will hold, which means that the bear market is over, he said.

However, Selkin expressed concern about going into Friday's jobs report with such strength because it limits the potential for upside surprises.

The major averages have continued to move higher in recent trading, once again rising to new highs for the session. The Dow is currently up 307.20 at 8,068.80, the Nasdaq is up 70.53 at 1,622.13 and the S&P 500 is up 33.67 at 844.75.

Sector News

Nearly all of the major sectors have shown strong upward moves of the course of the trading session, reflecting broad based strength in the markets.

Steel stocks are turning in some of the best performances in early afternoon trading, driving the Amex Steel Index up 10.2 percent. With the advance, the index has broken through some recent resistance to reach its highest level in over a month and a half.

Among steel stocks, shares of Schnitzer Steel (SCHN) are currently up 14.9 percent even though the steel producer reported an unexpected second quarter loss.

Transportation stocks are also posting substantial gains, with the Dow Jones Transportation Average currently up 9.6 percent, while oil services and housing stocks are also showing considerable advances on the day.

The Philadelphia Oil Services Index is up 7.6 percent, while the Philadelphia Housing Index is posting a gain of 7.2 percent.

Some electronic storage, retail, and commodity-related stocks are also experiencing considerable buying interest.

At the other end of the spectrum, gold stocks are posting some of the only losses on the day, driving the Amex Gold Bugs Index down 4.9 percent. The weakness in the sector comes as the price of gold falls $23.70 to $904 an ounce.

Stocks In The News

CarMax, Inc. (KMX) is posting a gain of 10.4 percent following the release of quarterly results that included better-than-expected earnings. With the advance, the stock has risen over recent resistance and to its highest level in six months.

The company reported net income for the fourth quarter of $0.17 per share, compared to $0.10 per share in the year-ago quarter. On average, analysts estimated the company to report $0.02 per share for the quarter. However, revenue fell year-over-year and missed estimates.

Additionally, Autodesk Inc. (ADSK) is up 8.9 percent after the company reaffirmed its first quarter outlook. The company still expects non-GAAP earnings of $0.00 to $0.12 per share and revenue of $400 and $440 million.

Meanwhile, Lindsay Corp. (LNN) is down 1 percent after the company's second-quarter earnings plunged year-over-year and fell substantially short of expectations.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region turned in strong performances amid some optimism about the outlook for the economy. Hong Kong's Hang Seng surged up more than 1,000 points or 7.4 percent.

Additionally, the major European markets are continuing to climb, holding near their highs of the day. The French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index are up 5.4 percent and 6.1 percent, respectively, while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index is posting a gain of 4.3 percent.

In the bond market, treasuries are continuing to fall and are holding near their lowest levels of the day. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark 10-year note is up 9.7 basis points at 2.755 percent.

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