RTTNews - Stocks continue to post standout gains in early afternoon trading on Thursday after the day's existing home sales report generated considerable buying interest. The major averages are all in positive territory by hefty margins, with the Nasdaq moving higher for the 12th straight session.

Earlier, data released by the National Association of Realtors showed that existing home sales increased for the third consecutive month in June, while home prices declined at a slower pace.

Separately, the U.S. Labor Department revealed that first-time claims for unemployment benefits showed a moderate increase in the week ended July 18th, with the increase coming roughly in line with economist estimates.

On the earnings front, traders have looked to a slew of reports, with 3M (MMM), Ford (F) and Wyeth (WYE) reporting results that surpassed Wall Street estimates. McDonald's (MCD), AT&T (T), Qualcomm (QCOM) also beat forecasts, although by more modest margins.

The major averages have moved roughly sideways in recent trading after reaching their best levels of the day in late morning trading. The Dow is currently up 175.63 at 9,056.89, the Nasdaq is up 43.46 at 1,969.84 and the S&P 500 is up 21.56 at 975.63.

Sector News

Most of the major sectors have moved notably higher over the course of the trading session, contributing to the strong upward move by the broader markets.

Housing stocks are extending a recent upward move, with the Philadelphia Housing Sector Index posting a gain of 5.5 percent. The index has risen to its best intra-day level in two months, sparked by the day's encouraging existing home sales data.

Chemical and commercial real estate stocks are also turning in strong performances, as reflected by the 4.4 percent gain being shown by the S&P Chemical Index and the 4.3 percent climb by the Morgan Stanley Real Estate Index.

The chemical index has moved to its best intraday level in over eight months, while the real estate index has reached its highest intraday level in roughly six weeks.

Oil service, biotechnology, retail, transportation and brokerage stocks are also rallying, reflecting the day's strength in a variety of sectors.

Stocks In The News

Shares of Tupperware (TUP) are on the rise in early afternoon trading after the firm reported second quarter earnings of $0.86 per share, which topped the consensus estimate of $0.61 per share. The company also forecast full year earnings above analyst estimates. The stock is up by 16.2 percent, reaching its best intraday level in over ten months.

Ebay Inc. (EBAY) is also moving sharply higher following news that the firm's adjusted second quarter earnings came in $0.37 cents per share, ahead of Wall Street forecasts of $0.36 cents per share. The stock is gaining by 10.2 percent, rising to its best intraday price in well over nine months.

Meanwhile, SanDisk (SNDK) is plunging after the firm provided a disappointing third quarter revenue outlook. The stock is plummeting by 11.1 percent, pulling back off the nine-month closing high set in the previous session.

In Focus: Economic Data, Earnings & Corporate News

As mentioned above, an industry report from NAR showed that existing home sales rose 3.6 percent to an annual rate of 4.89 million units in June from a downwardly revised rate of 4.72 million in May. Economists had expected sales to rise to a 4.84 million unit rate from the 4.77 million unit rate originally reported for the previous month.

Data from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims rose to 554,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 524,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to increase to 557,000 from the 522,000 originally reported for the previous week.

In earnings news, 3M reported adjusted second-quarter net income of $1.20 per share, compared to $1.39 per share in the year ago quarter. Wall Street expected the firm to earn $0.94 per share for the quarter. Net sales also declined compared to the same period last year but also beat estimates.

Ford revealed second-quarter net income of $0.69 per share, although its adjusted results showed a loss of $0.21 per share. The loss was narrower than the loss of $0.63 per share in the year-ago quarter while also beating Wall Street expectations of a loss of $0.48 per share. Sales slipped but were also able to beat forecasts.

Wyeth reported adjusted second-quarter net income of $0.98 per share, compared to $0.91 per share in the year ago quarter. The results surpassed forecasts of $0.85 per share for the quarter.

After the closing bell today, traders will look to results from American Express (AXP), Microsoft (MSFT) and Amazon (AMZN), which are some of the big-name companies slated to report.

In other news, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) signed a definitive agreement to acquire biotech firm Medarex (MEDX) for $16 per share in cash or a total of $2.4 billion. Bristol-Myers Squibb also revealed earnings and guidance that exceeded Wall Street estimates and is trading higher by 1.9 percent on the day. Shares of Medarex are surging by 88.8 percent amid reaction to the acquisition.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region finished on the upside on Thursday. While Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index posted a 0.7 percent gain, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index surged up by 3 percent.

The major European markets also closed notably higher, with the German DAX Index and the French CAC 40 Index finishing up by 2.5 and 2.1 percent, respectively, while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index posted a 1.5 percent gain.

In the bond markets, treasuries are showing notable weakness amid the rally on Wall Street. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note is trading at 3.654 percent, posting a gain of 10 basis points on the day.

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