Stocks have shown a strong upward move over the course of morning trading on Thursday, with the major averages adding to the standout gains posted in the previous session. A positive reaction to the latest earnings and economic news is contributing to the strength in the markets.

On the economic front, shares of Dow Chemical (DOW) have moved sharply higher after the chemical giant reported first quarter earnings that showed a steep decline year-over-year but came in well above analyst estimates.

Dow reported first quarter earnings of $0.03 per share compared to $0.99 per share in the same quarter last year. Excluding one-time items, the company earned $0.12 per share compared to analyst estimates of a loss of $0.21 per share.

Tyco International (TYC) is also turning in a strong performance after the industrial conglomerate reported a second quarter net loss but reported adjusted earnings that came in better than analysts had been expecting.

In economic news, the Labor Department said initial jobless claims in the week ended April 25th fell to 631,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 645,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to come in unchanged from the 640,000 originally reported for the previous week.

At the same time, the report showed a continued increase in continuing claims, which rose to another new record high. Continuing claims in the week ended April 18th rose to 6.271 million from the preceding week's revised level of 6.138 million.

Separately, the Commerce Department released its report on personal income and spending in the month of March, showing that income and spending both fell by a little more than economists had been expecting.

The Institute for Supply Management - Chicago also released its regional manufacturing report, showing that its index of activity in the manufacturing sector rose to 40.1 in April from 31.4 in March. However, a reading below 50 indicates a contraction in the sector.

Chrysler is also in focus amid reports that the automaker is on the verge of filing for bankruptcy after failing to reach an agreement with its creditors. President Barack Obama is due to comment on the fate of Chrysler in a speech at noon.

The major averages have moved roughly sideways in recent trading, hovering near their best levels of the day. The Dow is currently up 107.36 at 8,293.09, the Nasdaq is up 37.40 at 1,749.34 and the S&P 500 is up 12.50 at 886.14.

Sector News

While significant strength has emerged in a variety of sectors, semiconductor stocks are turning in some of the market's best performances. The Philadelphia Semiconductor Index is currently up 3.3 percent, rising to its best intraday level in over six months.

Teradyne (TER) is helping to lead the sector higher, with the chip testing equipment maker currently up 9.3 percent after reporting a narrower than expected first quarter loss and forecasting better than expected second quarter results.

Steel stocks are also posting substantial gains, driving the Amex Steel Index up 4.7 percent. Within the sector, ArcelorMittal (MT) is currently up 4.7 percent after announcing plans to raise up to $4 billion from the sale of common shares and convertible senior notes.

Most of the other major sectors have also moved higher, reflecting broad based strength in the markets. Chemical, electronic storage, networking, and transportation stocks are posting notable gains, extending recent upward moves.

Meanwhile, gold stocks are bucking the uptrend by the broader markets amid a notable decrease by the price of the precious metal. With gold for June delivery currently down $16.60 at $883.90 an ounce, the Amex Gold Bugs Index is currently down 3.1 percent.

Stocks Driven By Analyst Comments

Extending a recent upward move, shares of optionsXpress (OXPS) are seeing significant strength in morning trading, with the online brokerage currently up 7.3 percent. With the gain, optionsXpress has risen to its best intraday level in almost six months.

The gain by optionsXpress comes after Goldman Sachs upgraded its rating on the company's stock to Neutral from Sell. Goldman Sachs said the company's first quarter results showed stability, adding that the acquisition of Optionetics could boost long-term earnings.

Shares of Praxair (PX) are also showing a strong upward move after JP Morgan upgraded its rating on the industrial gas producer to Overweight from Neutral. Praxair is currently up 4.7 percent after reaching a six-month intraday high.

On the other hand, shares of Reynolds American (RAI) are currently down 5.7 percent after UBS downgraded its rating on the cigarette maker to Neutral from Buy. Reynolds ended the previous session at its best closing level in over four months.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved sharply higher on Thursday, benefiting from the strength seen on Wall Street overnight. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index showed a notable upward move, rising 3.9 percent.

The major European markets are also showing strong upward moves, with the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index advancing 2.1 percent, while the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index are rising 2.4 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively.

In the bond market, treasuries are seeing some weakness in morning trading, adding to the losses posted in the two previous sessions. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note is currently up 2.8 basis points at 3.124 percent.

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