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Major Averages Hovering Firmly In Positive Territory

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After showing an early move to the upside, stocks remain firmly in positive territory in mid-day trading on Thursday. With the upward move, the major averages have once again reached new record intraday highs.

The major averages have moved roughly sideways in recent trading, hovering firmly positive territory. The Dow is up 168.60 points or 0.6 percent at 29,198.82, the Nasdaq is up 56.78 points or 0.6 percent at 9,315.48 and the S&P 500 is up 17.49 points or 0.5 percent at 3,306.78.

The markets continue to benefit from recent upward momentum following the official signing of the U.S.-China phase one trade deal on Wednesday.

The deal did not address some major issues and leaves significant tariffs in place, but the agreement has still helped lift some of the uncertainty generated by the trade war between the two economic superpowers.

A batch of largely upbeat U.S. economic data has also contributed to the buying interest, with a report from the Labor Department showing an unexpected decrease in initial jobless claims in the week ended January 11th.

The Labor Department said initial jobless claims fell to 204,000, a decrease of 10,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 214,000. The drop came as a surprise to economists, who had expected jobless claims to inch up to 216,000.

The Commerce Department also released a report showing U.S. retail sales rose in line with economist estimates in the month of December, with a sharp pullback in auto sales more than offset by strength in other areas.

The report said retail sales climbed by 0.3 percent in December, matching the upwardly revised increase in November.

Economists had expected retail sales to rise by 0.3 percent compared to the 0.2 percent uptick originally reported for the previous month.

Excluding auto sales, retail sales increased by 0.7 percent in December after coming in unchanged in November. Ex-auto sales had been expected to climb by 0.5 percent.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve also released a report showing a substantial acceleration in the pace of growth in regional manufacturing activity in the month of January.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Home Builders released a report showing a slight pullback in homebuilder confidence in January, although confidence remains at an elevated level.

The report said the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index edged down to 75 in January after jumping to 76 in December.

The modest decrease, which matched economist estimates, came after the index reached its highest level since June of 1999 in the previous month.

Sector News

Natural gas stocks have moved sharply higher over the course of the trading session, driving the NYSE Arca Natural Gas Index up by 2.3 percent.

The rally by natural gas stocks comes amid an increase by the price of the commodity, with natural gas for February delivery rising $0.029 to $2.149 per million BTUs.

Significant strength also remains visible among brokerage stocks, as reflected by the 1.8 percent gain being posted by the NYSE Arca Broker/Dealer Index. The index has reached its best intraday level in nearly two years.

Morgan Stanley (MS) is leading the sector higher after reporting fourth quarter earnings that exceeded expectations on revenues that came in well above estimates.

Tobacco, oil service, and semiconductor stocks are also seeing considerable strength on the day, moving higher along with most of the other major sectors.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved mostly higher during trading on Thursday. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index inched up by 0.1 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index rose by 0.4 percent, although China's Shanghai Composite Index bucked the uptrend and slid by 0.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets turned in a mixed performance on the day. While the French CAC 40 Index inched up by 0.1 percent, the German DAX Index closed just below the unchanged line and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index fell by 0.4 percent.

In the bond market, treasuries are pulling back after trending higher over the past few sessions. As a result, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, is up by 2.6 basis points at 1.814 percent.

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