RTTNews - After a strong start, stocks have continued to move higher in mid-morning trading on Thursday amid a positive reaction to the latest earnings and employment figures. The major averages are all in positive territory by substantial margins, looking to snap a string of lackluster sessions.

While the Labor Department released a report showing that first-time claims for unemployment benefits in the week ended July 25th came in above the average analyst estimate, there were some concerns that jobless claims could have come in substantially higher.

The report showed that jobless claims rose to 584,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 559,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to rise to 575,000 from the 554,000 originally reported for the previous week.

The Labor Department noted that the less volatile four-week moving average fell to 559,000 from the previous week's revised average of 567,250. With the decrease, the moving average fell for the fifth straight week, dropping to its lowest level since coming in at 547,00 in the week ended January 24th.

After the markets closed Wednesday, credit card giant Visa Inc. (V) said its third quarter profit soared compared to last year, helped by lower expenses and a one-time gain from the sale of its stake in VisaNet do Brasil.

Visa's quarterly adjusted earnings came in above analysts' expectations, along with quarterly revenues. The company also reaffirmed its long-term guidance for 2010.

Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil (XOM) reported adjusted second quarter earnings of $0.84 per share compared to $2.27 per share in the same quarter a year ago. The results came in well below analyst estimates of $1.01 per share. Quarterly revenues plummeted to $74.5 billion compared to $138 billion in the year-ago quarter but exceeded expectations of $71.3 billion.

Insurance stalwart Travelers (TRV) reported second quarter net income of $1.27 per share, compared to $1.54 per share in the year ago quarter. Revenues for the quarter were $6.16 billion, down from $6.3 billion in the year ago quarter.

Wall Street analysts expected Travelers to report earnings of $1.28 per share on revenues of $6.17 billion. Although the firm raised its full year guidance, its still fell well short of estimates.

Traders are also digesting earnings results from Cigna (CI), Tyco (TYC), Kellogg (K) and Master Card (MA), which all surpassed Wall Street expectations on the bottom line, while revenues largely missed the mark.

The major averages seen some further upside in recent trading, once again rising to new highs for the session. The Dow is currently up 162.79 at 9,233.51, the Nasdaq is up 36.39 at 2,004.15 and the S&P 500 is up 20.30 at 995.45.

Sector News

Most of the major sectors are in positive territory, helping to boost the major averages by substantial margins.

Steel stocks are turning some of the day's strongest performances in, with the NYSE Arca Steel Index posting a gain of 5.2 percent. With the gain, the index is offsetting some of the losses posted in the previous two sessions.

Commercial real estate stocks are also on the rise, as reflected by the 4.2 percent gain being shown by the Morgan Stanley Real Estate Index. The gain has lifted the index to its best intra-day level in nearly two months.

The index is being helped by shares of Ventas (VTR), which are up by 8.4 percent. With the advance, the stock has reached its best intra-day price in nine months.

Banking, chemical, gold, electronic storage and railroad stocks are also rising by substantial margins, reflecting the day's strength in a broad variety of market segments.

Stocks Driven By Analyst Comments

Despite the advance by the broader markets, shares of Leap Wireless (LEAP) are moving lower in mid-morning trading after being downgraded at Robert W. Baird. The broker lowered its rating on the stock to Neural from Outperform while also dropping the target price from $42 to $27. The stock is down by 7.1 percent, falling to its worst intraday price in five months.

Sealed Air Corp. (SEE) is also retreating following a downgrade by Barclays Capital, which lowered its rating on the stock from Equal Weight to Underweight. The stock is falling by 2.2 percent, moving further off of a nine-month closing high set on Monday.

Meanwhile, shares of Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL) are gaining after the stock was upgraded by Barclays Capital from Underweight to Equal Weight. The stock is up by 7.3 percent after recent losses pushed it off the more than two-month closing high set late last week.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region finished largely on the upside on Thursday. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index and Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index both rose by 0.5 percent.

The major European markets are also continuing their upward move, with the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index gaining by 2.2 and 2 percent, respectively, while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index is up by 1.9 percent.

In the bond markets, treasuries are seeing moderate weakness amid the rally on Wall Street. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note is trading at 3.7 percent, posting a gain of 3.8 basis points on the day.

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