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Stocks Close Higher But Off Best Levels Of The Day - U.S. Commentary


Stocks saw moderate strength during trading on Thursday following the lackluster performance seen in the previous session. Despite the upward move, the major averages remained below their recent record highs.

The major averages ended the day in positive territory but off their highs of the session. The Dow rose 70.57 points or 0.3 percent to 24,211.48, the Nasdaq advanced 36.47 points or 0.5 percent to 6,812.84 and the S&P 500 climbed 7.71 points or 0.3 percent to 2,636.98.

The strength on Wall Street may have reflected optimism about lawmakers passing a short-term spending bill to avoid a government shutdown.

With a Friday deadline looming, the House is expected to vote later in the day on a "continuing resolution" that funds the government until December 22nd.

The two-week extension would provide lawmakers with additional time to negotiate a longer-term government spending bill.

Meanwhile, traders continued to express some uncertainty about the details of the final Republican tax reform bill.

The Senate voted 51 to 47 on Wednesday in favor of a motion to go to a conference committee with the House. The vote came down strictly along party lines.

Senate and House lawmakers will need to reach an agreement addressing significant differences between their two bills.

In economic news, the Labor Department released a report unexpectedly showing a modest decrease in first-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits in the week ended December 2nd.

The report said initial jobless claims edged down to 236,000, a decrease of 2,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 238,000. The drop surprised economists, who had expected jobless claims to inch up to 240,000.

Late in the trading day, the Federal Reserve released a separate report showing consumer credit jumped by $20.5 billion in October compared to economist estimates for an increase of $17.5 billion.

Sector News

Biotechnology stocks moved significantly higher over the course of the trading session, resulting in a 1.7 percent gain by the NYSE Arca Biotechnology Index. The advance by the index came after it closed lower for three consecutive sessions.

Within the biotech sector, Sage Therapeutics (SAGE) is posting a substantial gain after its Phase 2 study of SAGE-217 showed a statistically significant mean reduction in the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression.

Considerable strength was also visible among electronic storage stocks, as reflected by the 1.5 percent gain posted by the NYSE Arca Disk Drive Index. Micron Technology (MU) led the sector higher.

Transportation stocks also turned in a strong performance on the day, with the Dow Jones Transportation Average climbing by 1.3 percent.

Internet, housing, brokerage and semiconductor stocks also moved notably higher on the day, while tobacco stocks moved to the downside.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved mostly higher during trading on Thursday. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index surged up by 1.5 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index climbed by 0.3 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets turned in a mixed performance on the day. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index fell by 0.4 percent, the French CAC 40 Index edged up by 0.2 percent and the German DAX Index rose by 0.4 percent.

In the bond market, treasuries came under pressure in the afternoon after showing a lack of direction in morning trading. As a result, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, climbed 4.6 basis points to 2.376 percent.

Looking Ahead

Trading on Friday is likely to be impacted by reaction to the Labor Department's closely watched report on the employment situation in the month of November.

Employment is expected to increase by 200,000 jobs in November after surging up by 261,000 jobs in October. The unemployment rate is expected to hold at 4.1 percent.

The monthly employment report is likely to overshadow separate reports on consumer sentiment and wholesale inventories.

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