RTTNews - Despite a negative start, stocks have been able to move higher by notable margins on Thursday, as some traders have gone bargain hunting. The major averages remain firmly positive in mid-afternoon trading, looking to snap a string of lackluster performances.

Ahead of the opening bell on Wall Street, a report from the Labor Department showing an unexpected increase in weekly jobless dispirited traders on Wall Street, prompting a lower open. Nonetheless, selling pressure waned not long after the start of trading.

The major averages subsequently bounced well off their lows for the session and surged well above the unchanged line. The turnaround was partly due to rebounds by sectors that have trended lower in recent weeks.

Wall Street also watched Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as he faced tough questions from lawmakers Thursday regarding his agency's role in Bank of America Corp.'s (BAC) acquisition of Merrill Lynch.

Although Bernanke told members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that the Fed acted with the highest integrity in working with BofA on the acquisition, some members were less than convinced.

In recent trading, the major averages have moved off their best levels of the day, although they continue to post strong gains. The Dow is currently up 151.90 at 8,451.76, the Nasdaq is up 28.84 at 1,821.18 and the S&P 500 is up 16.04 at 916.98.

Dow Components

The majority of the Dow components are moving higher, helping the blue chip index to post a triple digit gain in mid-afternoon trading.

One of the Dow's best performers is Home Depot (HD), which is up by 3.8 percent. With the climb, the stock is moving further off the roughly one-month low set on Wednesday.

Further, shares of American Express (AXP) are showing a notable advance, climbing by 5.1 percent. The day's upward move is helping the stock to recover from a two-month closing low set in the previous session.

Pfizer (PFE) is also on the rise, moving up by 3.3 percent. With the move, the stock has pared its recent losses and has challenged its best intraday price of the month, set June 1st.

Additionally, Merck (MRK), Caterpillar (CAT) and Disney (DIS) are also showing notable moves to the upside. The stocks are all moving within their recent trading ranges.

Sector News

Strength continues to be visible among healthcare-related stocks, with the Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor Index and the Morgan Stanley Healthcare Provider index rising by 3.3 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively.

The day's move is helping the indices to offset recent losses, with the provider index continuing its move away from roughly a one month closing low.

Airline stocks are extending earlier gains, with the NYSE Arca Airline Index advancing by 5.1 percent. The day's upward move is helping the index to move further off of its worst closing level in well over two months, reached earlier this week.

Further, housing and gold stocks are also on the rise, with the Philadelphia Housing Sector Index and the NYSE Arca Gold Bugs Index moving up by 3.1 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively. The sector indices are extending their gains for the third straight session, regaining some ground after Monday's retreat.

Oil service stocks are also advancing by comparable gains, with the Philadelphia Oil Service Sector Index rising by 2.8 percent. The index continues to recover from a two month closing low set on Monday.

In Focus: Economic Data, Earnings News

As mentioned above, a report from the Labor Department showed that initial jobless claims for the week ended June 20th came in at 627,000, up from last week's revised figure of 612,000.

The increase in jobless claims surprised economists, who had expected the number to edge down to 600,000 from the 608,000 originally reported for the previous week.

Separately, the Commerce Department revealed its final revision to the first quarter gross domestic product. The report indicated that first quarter GDP contracted by a revised 5.5 percent compared to the 5.7 percent decrease that had been reported.

On the earnings front, Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) said its first-quarter net income rose to $0.34 per share from $0.30 per share in the same quarter last year, while analysts expected the firm to earn $0.25 per share for the quarter.

While Nike (NKE) reported adjusted fourth quarter net income of $0.99 per share, which beat Wall Street expectations of $0.96 per share, the firm said worldwide future orders scheduled for delivery from June 2009 through November 2009 are down 12 percent from a year ago.

Additionally, Lennar (LEN) reported a second-quarter net loss of $0.76 per share, unchanged from the same period last year. Wall Street analysts had expected the homebuilder to report a loss of $0.64 per share for the quarter.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region ended Thursday's session showing strong gains. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index closed up 2.2 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index jumped 2.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets closed firmly on the downside, with the German DAX Index and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index both sliding by 1.4 percent, while the French CAC 40 Index fell by 0.7 percent.

In the bond markets, treasuries are seeing significant strength. Subsequently, the benchmark ten-year note is trading at 3.549 percent, a drop of 13.6 basis points on the day.

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