Stocks showed a strong upward move during trading on Thursday, as investors reacted well to mixed economic news and liked what they heard from the G-20 summit in London. The continued advance also reflected some optimism about a stabilization in the economy.
Before the start of trading, the Labor Department said that initial jobless claims in the week ended March 28th unexpectedly rose to 669,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 657,000. With the increase, jobless claims rose to a new twenty-six year high.
While the data added to concerns about Friday's monthly employment report, Peter Boockvar of Miller Tabak noted, Participants are looking past this employment data and placing their chips on the 'worst is over' belief, and the still worsening labor market is a lagging indicator.
Additionally, a report from the Commerce Department showing that factory orders rose 1.8 percent in February added to recent signs of stabilization in the economy, although the report also showed a notable downward revision to the data for January.
Meanwhile, traders were also keeping a close on the Group of 20 Summit in London, with the world leaders assembled at the meeting pledging to do whatever is necessary to end the economic crisis.
President Barack Obama called the agreements reached by leaders a turning point in our pursuit of global economic recovery.
However, the president cautioned that while the reforms agreed to are necessary, they might not be sufficient. In order to ensure that a stable recovery takes hold, the G-20 will meet again in the fall, Obama announced.
While noting that it is important that nations agree on an action plan, the president said individual actions remain just as important.
The actions that each of us take in our individual countries are absolutely vital, Obama said, urging nations to move to take care of the toxic assets that have brought the banking system to a standstill.
While the major averages gave back some ground going into the close, they still ended the session firmly positive. The Dow closed up 216.48 points or 2.8 percent at 7,978.08, the Nasdaq closed up 51.03 points or 3.3 percent at 1,602.63 and the S&P 500 closed up 23.30 points or 2.9 percent at 834.38.
With the gains, the Dow and the S&P 500 ended the session at their best closing levels in nearly two months, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq set a nearly three-month closing high.
Transportation stocks led the markets higher for most of the session, posting strong gains throughout the day. At the sounding of the closing bell some of the best performances were being shown by airline stocks, driving the Amex Airline Index 8.6 percent higher.
Within the airline sector, Alaska Air Group (ALK) was one of the leaders, closing with a gain of 11.1 percent. With the advance, the stock rose to its highest closing level in over a month.
Significant strength was also visible among steel stocks, as reflected by the 8.6 percent gain posted by the Amex Steel Index. The index more than offset recent losses to end the session at a more than one-month closing high.
Real estate, oil services, and housing stocks also turned in some of the market's best performances. The Morgan Stanley REIT Index closed up 7.4 percent, while the Philadelphia Oil Service Index and the Philadelphia Housing Index rose 5.6 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively.
While most of the other major sectors also showed strong upward moves, gold stocks bucked the uptrend amid a notable decrease by the price of the precious metal. With gold for June delivery closing down $18.80 at $908.90, the Amex Gold Bugs Index fell 4.3 percent.
At the close of trading, nearly of the Dow components were higher on the day, contributing to the substantial gain shown by the blue chip index. Of the thirty Dow components, only three ended the day below the unchanged line.
Caterpillar (CAT) showed one of the biggest upward moves of the session, closing up 8.8 percent. With the advance, the stock soared to its highest level in nearly two months.
General Motors (GM), DuPont (DD), Alcoa (AA) also posted notable gains on the day. While GM ended the session up 8.3 percent, DuPont and Alcoa both rose 7.6 percent.
Additionally, Disney (DIS), General Electric (GE), and Boeing (BA) were among the other Dow components that posted notable gains.
Meanwhile, shares of Pfizer (PFE) showed a notable decline, ending the session down 1.6 percent. Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Microsoft (MSFT) posted more modest losses.
In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region closed considerably higher on Thursday amid some optimism about the outlook for the economy. Hong Kong's Hang Seng showed a particularly strong upward move, closing up more than 1,000 points or 7.4 percent.
The major European markets also turned in strong performances. The French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index finished the session up 5.4 percent and 6.1 percent, respectively, while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index posted a gain of 4.3 percent.
In the bond market, treasuries saw notable weakness as traders moved their money into stocks. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark 10-year note closed up 9.4 basis points at 2.752 percent.
Employment data will be in focus on Friday, with the Labor Department due to release its report on the employment situation in the month of March at 8:30 a.m. ET.
Economists currently expect the Labor Department report to show that employment fell by 658,000 jobs in March following a decrease of 651,000 jobs in February. The unemployment rate is also expected to rise to 8.5 percent from 8.1 percent in the previous month.
Later in the morning, trading could be impacted by the release of the Institute for Supply Management's report on activity in the service sector. The index of activity in the sector is expected to edge up to 42.0 in March from 41.6 in February.
At noon, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will speak at the Richmond Fed's Credit Markets Symposium in Charlotte, NC.
Trading could also be impacted by reaction to the release of quarterly results from Research in Motion (RIMM) and Micron Technology (MU) after the close of trading today.
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