RTTNews - Stocks are hugging the unchanged mark in mid-afternoon trading on Thursday amid limited reaction to the day's slew of economic reports. The major averages are all positive at the moment, but they have been swinging between gains and losses over the course of the session.

Traders looked to a slew of economic data on the day, with first-time claims for unemployment benefits showing a modest increase in the week ended August 8th, according to the Labor Department. The headline figure surprised economists, who had expected a modest decrease. Nonetheless, jobless claims remain well off the peaks seen during the spring months.

Separately, a report from the Commerce Department showed that retail sales unexpectedly fell last month. The government's cash for clunkers program gave a boost to auto sales, but many other sectors saw declines. The figures pointed to continued weakness among consumers, who continue to hold back spending in the face of an uncertain economic environment.

Another report from Commerce Department revealed that business inventories fell by more than expected in the month of June, although the report also showed a notable increase in business sales during the month.

Stocks saw some upside following the results of the Treasury Department's $15 billion sale of thirty-year bonds. The sale drew a high yield of 4.541 percent and attracted strong demand, with the bid-to-cover ratio coming in at 2.54. The bid-to-cover ratio is a measure of demand that indicates the amount of bids for each dollar worth of securities being sold.

The auction completed the Treasury's $75 billion in security offerings this week, designed to refund approximately $60.9 billion of privately held securities maturing on August 15, 2009 and to raise approximately $14.1 billion for government expenditures.

The major averages have continued to see choppy movement in recent trading, unable to sustain any significant moves. The Dow is currently up 2.42 at 9,364.03, the Nasdaq is up 3.49 at 2,002.21 and the S&P 500 is up 2.42 at 1,008.23.

Dow Components

Alcoa (AA) is one of the Dow's best performers, rising by 5.5 percent in mid-afternoon trading. With the climb, the stock is poised to close at its best level in ten months.

Bank of America (BAC) is also advancing by a substantial margin, posting a gain of 5.3 percent. Despite the upward move, the stock remains stuck in a recent trading range.

Wal-Mart (WMT) and Travelers (TRV) are also moving notably higher, advancing by 2.6 percent and 2 percent, respectively. Notably, Wal-Mart has reached its best intraday level in four months after reporting quarterly earnings of $0.87 per share compared to analyst estimates of $0.86 per share.

The Dow is being held back by shares of United Technologies (UTX), which are falling by 1.6 percent. The stock is backing off of its best closing level in ten months.

Caterpillar (CAT), Exxon Mobil (XOM), Coca-Cola (KO) and Disney (DIS) are also retreating, posting comparable losses. While the stocks are largely extending their recent choppy performances, Coca-Cola has fallen to a seven-week intraday low.

Sector News

Gold and networking stocks are continuing their strong performances in mid-afternoon trading, with the NYSE Arca Gold Bugs Index and the NYSE Arca Networking Index rising by 2.9 percent and .3.4 percent, respectively. While the gold index is moving within a recent trading range, the networking index reached an eleven month intraday high earlier in the session.

Banking stocks are also advancing, as reflected by the 2.4 percent gain being shown by the Kbw Banking Index. Despite the notable upward move, the index remains stuck in recent trading ranges.

Oil service stocks are also climbing, with the Philadelphia Oil Service Sector posting a gain of 2.4 percent. The index is being led higher by shares of Smith International (SII), which have surged up by 5.4 percent. The gain has the stock poised to close at its best level in nearly two months.

While steel, airline and semiconductor stocks also moving higher, notable weakness has emerged among housing and tobacco stocks. Additionally, trucking and utility stocks are also sliding, although by much more modest margins.

In Focus: Economic Data, Earnings News

As mentioned above, the Labor Department's weekly jobs report showed that initial jobless claims edged up to 558,000 from the previous week's revised figured of 554,000. Economists had been expecting claims to slip to 545,000 from the 550,000 originally reported for the previous week.

In a separate report, the Commerce Department said retail sales fell 0.1 percent in July. This followed a revised 0.8 percent increase in the previous month. The figure surprised economists, who had expected sales to increase by 0.8 percent.

Additional data from the Commerce Department showed that business inventories fell 1.1 percent in June followed a revised 1.2 percent decrease in May. Economists had been expecting inventories to fall by 0.9 percent compared to the 1.0 percent decrease originally reported for the previous month.

On the earnings front, Advance Auto Parts Inc. (AAP) said that its second quarter profit rose 7 percent from last year, helped by 4.8 percent same-store sales growth. Both earnings and revenues beat analyst estimates.

The world's largest brewer Anheuser Busch InBev (ABI) reported a higher net profit for the second quarter that came in above analysts' estimates. However, the brewer warned that the second half of the year would be challenging.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region finished higher on Thursday. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index rose by 0.8 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index surged up by 2.1 percent.

The major European markets also closed on the upside, with the German DAX Index and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index posting gains of 1 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively, while the French CAC 40 Index rose by 0.5 percent.

In the bond market, treasuries are rallying following the results of the thirty-year bond auction. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note is trading at 3.606 percent, posting a loss of 9.5 basis points on the day.

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