While stocks moved to the upside at the start of trading on Thursday, the major averages were unable to sustain the initial upward move and have shown some uncertainty since then. The choppy trading comes as traders digest some mixed economic and corporate news.
On the economic front, the Labor Department reported that weekly jobless claims fell by much more than economists had been expecting in the week ended April 11th. However, the report also showed that continuing claims rose to another record high.
The weekly report showed that jobless claims fell to 610,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 663,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to edge up 658,000 from the 654,000 originally reported for the previous week.
At the same time, the Labor Department said that continuing claims in the week ended April 4th rose to 6.022 million from the preceding week's revised level of 5.850 million.
Meanwhile, a report released by the Commerce Department showed that housing starts fell by much more than expected in the month of March, with the data offsetting some of the recent optimism about stabilization in the housing market.
The report showed that housing starts fell 10.8 percent to an annual rate of 510,000 in March from the revised February estimate of 572,000. Economists had expected starts to slip to 540,000 from the 583,000 originally reported for the previous month.
Separately, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve said its index of regional manufacturing activity rose to a negative 24.4 in April from a negative 35.0 in March. While a negative reading indicates a contraction in the sector, the index increased by much more than expected.
In corporate news, JP Morgan (JPM) reported first-quarter net income of $2.14 billion or $0.40 per share compared to $2.37 billion or $0.67 per share in the year ago quarter. Analysts expected the company to report earnings of $0.32 per share. Revenues also beat expectations for the quarter.
Additionally, mobile phone giant Nokia (NOK) is moving higher despite reporting first quarter earnings that fell sharply year-over-year. The company said its earnings for the quarter fell to 3 euro cents per share from 32 euro cents per share last year.
Some buying interest was generated by Nokia's remarks that it expects second quarter worldwide mobile device volume to be flat or show modest sequential growth.
While the Nasdaq currently remains firmly positive, the Dow and the S&P 500 are posting more modest gains. The Nasdaq is currently up 16.18 at 1,642.98, while the Dow is up 5.25 at 8,034.87 and the S&P 500 is up 1.79 at 853.85.
Strength among computer hardware stocks is contributing to the strong gain by the tech-heavy Nasdaq, with the Amex Computer Hardware Index is currently up 2.9 percent.
Within the hardware sector, Palm (PALM) is posting a notable gain, with the handheld computer maker currently up 6.6 percent. At its high for the session, Palm was at its best intraday level in over a year.
The Nasdaq is also benefiting from strength in the networking, wireless, and semiconductor sectors. Micron Technology (MU) is helping to lead the semiconductor sector higher after Barclays upgraded its rating on the stock to Overweight.
At the other end of the spectrum, gold stocks have moved sharply lower over the course of the morning, dragging the Amex Gold Bug Index down 4.3 percent. The weakness in the sector comes as the price of gold is falling $11.30 to $882.20 an ounce.
Airline, real estate, and banking stocks are also posting noteworthy losses on the day. The Amex Airline Index is down 2.9 percent, while the Morgan Stanley REIT Index and the Kbw Bank Index are both down 2.2 percent.
Stocks Driven By Analyst Comments
Cheesecake Factory Inc. (CAKE) is posting a gain of 6.9 percent following an upgrade to Buy from Hold at KeyBanc Capital Markets. With the advance, the stock has climbed to its highest level in six and a half months.
The upgrade came on analysts' beliefs that the company will likely top earnings expectations and repair its balance sheet this year with help from cost cuts, lower commodity costs and debt repayments.
Meanwhile, Nalco (NLC) is suffering a loss of 4.1 percent after the stock was downgraded to Neutral from Overweight at JP Morgan on a potential earnings miss because of the poor demand environment. Analysts also see limited upside for shares without strong earnings.
In overseas trading, the stocks markets across the Asia-Pacific region turned in another mixed performance on Thursday, with most of the markets in the region pulling back off their highs after seeing early strength.
Meanwhile, the major European markets are continuing to see notable strength, with the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index up 1.5 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively, while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index is posting a 1.7 percent gain.
In the bond market, treasuries are showing considerable weakness, driving the yield on the benchmark 10-year note up 4 basis points to 2.797 percent.
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