U.S. stocks turned higher Thursday after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve a budget bill that will fund the government through September and investors' optimism mounted for first-quarter earnings. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 14.16 points, or 0.12%, to 12285.15.
The Dow had been down more than 100 points in morning trading following disappointing jobless claims data, but pared its losses gradually. The blue-chip measure turned positive after lawmakers in the House voted to approve a measure to fund the government through the remaining months of fiscal year 2011. The Senate will take the bill up later Thursday afternoon. The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index edged up 0.11, or 0.01%, to 1314.52. Shares in the Internet giant dropped 4.8% in after-hours trading after the company said first-quarter earnings rose 18%. That was short of the consensus analyst estimate despite a better than expected climb in revenue.
The Nasdaq Composite finished down 1.30, or 0.05%, at 2760.22. Technology stocks weakened after industry researcher Gartner said global shipments of personal computers fell 1.1% in the first quarter, reflecting a seasonally weak period as well as greater consumer attention on tablets and other products. Dell shares fell 3%. Meanwhile, consumer staples also helped spur the market's Thursday rebound. Supermarket operator Supervalu led the sector higher. Its shares surged 17% as the company reported a drop in fiscal fourth-quarter earnings that was smaller than analysts had expected.
European stocks fell Thursday, led lower by banks as worries escalated over Greece's debt burden, while shares of Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC sank on news its chief executive will retire. The pan-European Stoxx 600 index declined 0.5% to end at 277.01. In Athens, the ASE Composite index dropped 2.8%, as the cost of insuring Greek government debt against default soared to a record level.
Banking stocks posted particularly heavy losses, with National Bank of Greece down 5.2%, Piraeus Bank down nearly 6%, and EFG Eurobank Ergasias down 5.7%. The losses came after German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was quoted as telling the German newspaper Die Welt that Greece may need to take further measures if a June audit by the European Commission and the European Central Bank shows the nation's debt burden isn't sustainable. Shares of Deutsche Bank, fell 2.6% in Frankfurt after the bank was downgraded to hold from buy at Societe Generale and was also criticized by the Senate subcommittee.
UniCredit downgraded Spanish banking giant Banco Santander to hold from buy. Shares of Santander dropped 2.3%, and local rival BBVA SA fell 2.6%. The declines helped pull Spain's IBEX 35 index down 1.5% to 10,622.70. Bucking the negative trend, Bank of Ireland rose around 1% in Dublin after reporting a narrower net loss in 2010 and falling impairments from bad loans. In London, shares of Reckitt Benckiser tumbled nearly 8%, making it the biggest decliner on the FTSE 100 index, after the household-products group said Chief Executive Bart Becht will retire.
The FTSE 100 index fell 0.8% to end at 5,963.80, with losses for mining stocks contributing to the decline, hit by worries over accelerating Chinese inflation. Shares of mining group Antofagasta PLC closed down 3.6% and those of Kazakhmys PLC fell 2.9%. In France, the CAC 40 index dropped 0.9% to 3,970.39, as shares of investment bank Natixis SA closed down 2.7%. Shares of Alcatel-Lucent SA rose 2.5%. The Wall Street Journal reported that the company is exploring a sale of its division that sells phones and other telecom gear to corporations. The German DAX 30 index dropped 0.4% to 7,146.56, led by the decline in Deutsche Bank.
Chinese and Hong Kong stocks fell Thursday, leading many Asian markets lower, on concern that March Chinese inflation data to be released Friday could push Beijing to tighten its monetary policy further. Stocks in Singapore fell as the Singapore dollar hit a record high against the U.S. dollar after the city-state's central bank raised the trading range of the currency to curb inflationary pressures.
China's Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.3% to 3042.64, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index gave up 0.5% to 24014.00, Singapore's Straits Times Index fell 0.4% to 3158.92 and Indonesia's main stock index dropped 0.7% to 3707.98. Japan's Nikkei Stock Average erased early losses to finish 0.1% higher at 9653.92 in choppy trade, led by some technology shares. Also advancing, South Korea's Kospi rose 0.9% to 2141.06 and Taiwan's Taiex added 0.3% to 8802.73.
Property stocks were among the losers on mainland Chinese bourses, with China Vanke Co. losing 1.5% in Shenzhen and Poly Real Estate Group Co. and Gemdale Corp. dropped 2.3% and 2.2%, respectively, in Shanghai. In Hong Kong, China Resources Land Ltd. slipped 0.3%. Earlier in the day, Moody's Investors Service cut its outlook on the Chinese property sector to negative from stable, citing a tough operating environment for developers due to policy tightening, rising interest rates, reduced bank lending and increased supply.
Several Hong Kong-based property stocks also fell on concerns rising supply and likely tighter liquidity conditions might hurt developers. Cheung Kong Holdings gave up 0.6% and Hang Lung Properties fell 0.4%. In Tokyo, Isuzu Motors jumped 6.2% on a report from Germany's Manager Magazin of possible takeover by Volkswagen. Toshiba rose 2% after President Norio Sasaki reportedly said the company's net profit for the year ended March 31 might beat its January forecast.
Base metals closed mostly lower on the London Metal Exchange Thursday after disappointing economic data and falling stock markets lumped pressure on the already-strained industrial commodities. LME three month copper lost a further 1% off its price, closing at $9,410 a metric ton. The red metal is now down 5% on the start of the week.
Three month lead also took a further tumble, ending the session 2.5% lower at $2,613/ton. It has fallen 9% so far this week. Oil futures finished higher Thursday as the dollar slid against the euro and traders remained focused on a drop in gasoline supplies. Light, sweet crude for May delivery settled up $1, or 0.9%, to 108.11 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract for May Brent crude on the ICE Futures Exchange, which expired Thursday, settled down 52 cents, or 0.4%, to $122.36 a barrel.
The Nymex contract gained ground as traders focused on the dollar's decline in the absence of fundamental developments in the market. A weaker dollar typically lifts oil prices as the dollar-denominated commodity becomes cheaper in other currencies and investors seek safety in hard assets. Gold futures gained as weak U.S. economic data weighed on the dollar and equity markets, sending investors back to the safe-harbor asset.
The most actively traded contract, for June delivery, settled up 1.2%, or $16.80, at $1,472.40 a troy ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. This was the highest settlement price since the record $1,474.10 level set April 8. The thinly traded April-delivery contract ended $16.80 higher, or up 1.2%, at $1,471.70 a troy ounce.