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Stocks May See Early Strength On Upbeat Economic Data - U.S. Commentary


After moving roughly sideways over the past few sessions, stocks may move to the upside at the start of trading on Thursday. The major index futures are currently pointing to a higher open for the markets, with the Dow futures up by 60 points.

The markets are likely to benefit from a pair of upbeat U.S. economic reports, including a report from the Labor Department showing that initial jobless claims fell to a five-year low.

The report showed that jobless claims fell to 335,000 in the week ended January 12th from the previous week's revised figure of 372,000. Economists had been expecting jobless claims to show a much more modest decrease to 368,000.

With the much bigger than expected drop, jobless claims fell to their lowest level since the week ended January 19, 2008.

A separate report from the Commerce Department showed a much bigger than expected increase in housing starts in the month of December.

The Commerce Department said housing starts jumped 12.1 percent to an annual rate of 954,000 in December from the revised November estimate of 851,000. The increase lifted housing starts to their highest annual rate since June of 2008.

Economists had expected housing starts to climb to an annual rate of 887,000 from the 861,000 originally reported for the previous month.

Building permits, an indicator of future housing demand, edged up by a much more modest 0.3 percent to an annual rate of 903,000.

While the data is likely to generate some positive sentiment, buying interest may be somewhat subdued as traders also digest the latest batch of earnings news.

Bank of America (BAC) reported fourth quarter earnings that fell year-over-year but exceeded analyst estimates, while fellow Dow component UnitedHealth (UNH) reported fourth quarter earnings that met expectations.

Meanwhile, shares of Citigroup (C) are likely to come under pressure in early trading after the financial giant reported much weaker than expected fourth quarter earnings.

Stocks turned in a relatively lackluster performance during trading on Wednesday, extending a recent sideways move. The major averages ended the day on opposite sides of the unchanged line for the fourth consecutive session.

While the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 posted modest gains, the Dow remained stuck in the red. The Dow dipped 23.66 points or 0.2 percent to 13,511.23, while the Nasdaq rose 6.76 points or 0.2 percent to 3,117.54 and the S&P 500 inched up 0.29 points or less than a tenth of a percent to 1,472.63.

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region turned in a mixed performance during trading on Thursday. While Japan's Nikkei 225 Index inched up by 0.1 percent, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index edged down by 0.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets have all moved to the upside on the day. The French CAC 40 Index has surged up by 1.1 percent, while the German DAX Index has advanced by 0.7 percent and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index has risen by 0.3 percent.

In commodities trading, crude oil futures are climbing $0.88 to $95.17 a barrel after rising $0.96 to $94.24 a barrel on Wednesday. Gold futures, which fell $0.70 to $1,683.20 an ounce in the previous session, are sliding $8.70 to $1,674.70 an ounce.

Among currencies, the U.S. dollar is trading at 89.39 yen compared to the 88.31 yen it fetched at the close of New York trading on Wednesday. Against the euro, the dollar is trading at $1.3348 compared to yesterday's $1.3288.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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