U.S. stock markets ended mixed in a volatile session on Thursday as oil prices eased and encouraging job data helped the markets to stabilize in the final hours.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 37.28 points, or 0.31 percent, at 12,068.50. The S&P 500 index declined 1.30 points, or 0.10 percent, to 1,306.10. The NASDAQ composite index gained 0.55 percent.
Oil traders are citing unconfirmed rumors that Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi was shot to explain a sudden downward reversal in oil prices today. In New York, oil futures dropped 1.61 percent to settle at $96.49 per barrel.
However, U.S. officials denied the rumors and said it had no reason to believe Gaddafi was dead or even wounded.Meanwhile, violence in Libya is escalating, with anti-and pro-government forces reportedly battling in Tripoli and elsewhere. Anti-Gaddafi forces appear to have taken over much of the eastern part of the country, including the city of Benghazi and many oilfields.
The Department of Labor reported that initial jobless claims decreased by 22,000 to 391,000 for the week ended February 19 from the previous week's revised figure of 413,000, while economists expected 405,000. The 4-week moving average of initial claims declined 16,500 to 402,750 from the previous week's revised average of 418,500.
On the corporate front, shares of priceline.com Inc. (NASDAQ:PCLN) surged 8.53 percent as it guided first quarter earnings above Street view. The company expects first quarter adjusted earnings of $2.34 to $2.44 a share and revenue growth of 29 percent to 34 percent over last year, while Street predicts profit of $2.31 a share on revenue of $741.21 million with revenue growth of 26.80 percent.
The euro advanced 0.11 percent to 1.3814against the dollar while the greenback gained 0.14percent against the yen.
European stock markets ended lower for the third day on Tuesday amid continuing political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.
The Stoxx 600 declined 0.6 percent to 280.56. DAX30 declined 64 .10 points or 089 percent to 7,130.50, CAC 40 fell 3.48 points or 0.09 percent 4,009.64 and the FTSE 100 declined 3.55 points or 0.06 percent to 5,919.98.
Germany's second-largest utility firm RWE shares declined 4.47 percent after the company said its 2010 net income declined 7.4 percent and warned that its 2011 operating profit will decline by around 20 percent compared to last year.
Vallourec SA shares declined 6.6 percent to 72.55 as its fourth quarter net income fell short of expectations. Net income rose 6.7 percent to 107.7 million euros against analysts’ estimation of 131 million euros.
Shares of Royal Bank of Scotland declined 3.6 percent as its quarterly earnings fell short of analysts’ estimates. Pre-tax losses in the full year period were £239 million, down from a £1.9 billion loss reported in the previous year. The group said it had made an operating profit of two billion pounds, following an operating loss of £6.2 billion the previous year.
Vodafone Group PLC declined 1.36 percent and Barclays PLC fell 2.02 percent, while Prudential PLC plunged 3.61 percent.
Most Asian stock markets ended lower on Thursday as oil prices continue to rise amidst fears that violent unrest in Libya will not only cut off supplies from that nation, but perhaps spread to other, larger oil producers, including Saudi Arabia.
Tokyo shares ended lower for a third day as oil prices climbed to 30 month highs due continued turmoil and violence in Libya. Japanese benchmark index Nikkei fell 1.19 percent or 126.39 points to 10,452.71.
Toyota Motor Corp. declined 1.73 percent to 3,675 yen and Sony Corp. fell 1.51 percent to 2,932 yen, while the railroad operator Tobu plunged 12.1 percent to 400 yen after the company said it plans to raise as much as 93 billion or $1.1 billion.
Hong Kong stocks ended near five-month closing low, led by declines from airlines stocks after crude oil prices surged to a 28-month high.
Benchmark Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index declined 305.86 points or 1.34 percent to 22,601.04. China Eastern Airlines declined 2.6 percent and Air China plunged 4.8 percent.
South Korean shares ended lower, led by declines from crude oil refiners and technology companies’. Benchmark Seoul composite declined 11.75 points or 0.60 percent to 1,949.88.
Meanwhile, Chinese Shanghai ended higher due to gains from oil and coal shares. Shanghai composite gained 0.58 percent or 16.57 points to 2,879.21. PetroChina gained 0.6 percent and China Shenhua Energy advanced 2.05 percent, while China Coal Energy advanced 1.92 percent.