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Stocks Close Mostly Higher After Seeing Early Weakness - U.S. Commentary

With upbeat jobs data overshadowing some disappointing earnings news, stocks moved higher over the course of the trading day on Thursday.

The major averages recovered from early weakness, but the Dow was unable to cross the 13,000 level. The Dow rose 46.02 points or 0.4 percent to 12,984.69, the Nasdaq jumped 23.81 points or 0.8 percent to 2,956.98 and the S&P 500 climbed 5.80 points or 0.4 percent to 1,363.46.

The strength that emerged on Wall Street was partly due to the release of a report from the Labor Department showing that initial jobless claims came in unchanged in the week ended February 18th.

The report showed that jobless claims came in at 351,000, unchanged from the previous week's revised figure. Economists had expected jobless claims to edge up to 355,000 from the 348,000 originally reported for the previous week.

Despite the upward revision, the number of jobless claims in the previous week still marks the lowest level since March of 2008.

Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at Miller Tabak, said, "Bottom line, the data still points to a labor market that continues to improve however lumpy the process feels for many."

The early weakness was partly due to a negative reaction to quarterly results from Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), which came on the heels of disappointing earnings news from rival Dell (DELL).

While HP reported first quarter earnings that beat analyst estimates, its revenues for the quarter fell by more than anticipated. The computer maker also forecast weaker than expected second quarter earnings. Shares of HP fell by 6.5 percent on the news.

On the other hand, retail giant Target (TGT) rose by 2.9 percent after reporting first quarter earnings that exceeded analyst estimates despite weaker than expected revenue growth.

Shares of Sears Holdings (SHLD) jumped 18.7 percent after the department store operator reported a substantial fourth quarter loss but announced immediate actions to improve its performance.

Sector News

After moving lower over the past few sessions, biotechnology stocks showed a strong move back to the upside on the day. Reflecting the strength in the biotech sector, the NYSE Arca Biotechnology Index surged up by 2.2 percent.

Within the biotech sector, Vivus (VVUS) posted a standout gain after a FDA advisory panel recommended approval of the company's weight-loss drug Qnexa. Shares of Vivus jumped 77.5 percent on the news.

Telecom stocks also saw considerable strength, resulting in a 2.1 percent advance by the NYSE Arca Telecom Index. Level 3 Communications (LVLT) and Sprint Nextel (S) turned in two of the sector's best performances.

Significant strength also emerged among brokerage stocks, as reflected by the 2.1 percent gain posted by the NYSE Arca Broker/Dealer Index. With the gain, the index reached its best closing level in well over six months.

Natural gas, commercial real estate, and housing stocks also posted notable gains, while airline and health insurance stocks bucked the uptrend by the broader markets.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved mostly lower on Thursday, although Japan's Nikkei 225 Index bucked the downtrend and closed up 0.4 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell by 0.8 percent, while Australia's All Ordinaries Index slipped 0.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets turned in a mixed performance on the day. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index rose by 0.4 percent, the French CAC 40 Index closed nearly flat and the German DAX Index fell by 0.5 percent.

In the bond market, treasuries showed a strong move to the upside following the release of the results of a seven-year note auction. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, ended the day down by 2.1 basis points at 1.984 percent.

Looking Ahead

U.S. economic data may attract some attention on Friday, with traders likely to keep an eye on reports on consumer sentiment and new home sales.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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