Ahmed Elbatrawy

Stocks hold gains in early trading

u.s. stock market

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — U.S. stocks inched higher early Thursday following the latest data on weekly jobless claims and quarterly reports from Exxon and UPS, among others.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) was up 55 points, or 0.4%, in early trading.

Exxon (XOM, Fortune 500) was the biggest drag on the Dow after the oil company reported a decline in profit. Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) led gainers on the blue-chip index, despite a Mexican bribery scandal that is hanging over the world’s largest retailer.

The SP 500 (SPX) edged up 2 points, or 0.1%, with shares of tax preparation company HR block among the worst performers. UPS also weighed on the index after the delivery company reported earnings that missed analysts expectations.

The Nasdaq (COMP) gained 10 points, or less than 0.3%.

Investors were underwhelmed by a glimpse at the health of the job market, which showed that the number of Americans filing for unemployment dipped slightly but missed expectations.

In Europe, stocks fell after the Italian government auctioned €8.5 billion worth of 6-month notes at a yield of 1.77%. That’s higher than last month’s auction, signaling weaker demand since yields and prices move in opposite direction.

The retreat in U.S. stocks is “presumably a reflection of the turnaround that we’ve seen in Europe this morning,” said Brian Barry, analyst for Investec Bank in London.

The yield on Italian 10-year bonds has been hovering around 6% for the past week or so. Italy will offer 5- and 10-year bonds Friday.

U.S. stocks finished higher Wednesday on news that the Federal Reserve boosted its economic growth projection and improved its outlook. A jump in Boeing (BA, Fortune 500) shares pushed up the Dow, while Apple’s (AAPL, Fortune 500) earnings propelled the Nasdaq and SP.

World markets: European stocks were lower in afternoon trading. Britain’s FTSE 100 (UKX) was down 0.3%, while the DAX (DAX) in Germany slid 0.7% and France’s CAC 40 (CAC40) fell 1.3%.

Asian markets ended mixed. The Shanghai Composite (SHCOMP) finished slightly in the red, while the Hang Seng (HSI) in Hong Kong added 0.8% and Japan’s Nikkei (N225) ended just above breakeven.

Economy: The number of people filing for first-time unemployment benefits dipped 1,000 to 388,000 in the most recent week, according to the Labor Department’s weekly initial claims report.

The jobless claims number fell to four-year lows a few months ago, but has been climbing recently. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had expected the report to show that 365,000 people filed for their first week of jobless claims last week, down from 386,000 the week before.

Meanwhile, pending home sales rose 4.1% in March, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The pending home sales index, which reflect contracts but not closings, was expected to have risen 0.5%, according to a consensus of analysts surveyed by Briefing.com.

Companies: Exxon Mobil reported earnings of $2 per share, below expectations of $2.09. The nation’s No. 1 oil company generated $9.45 billion in profits the quarter, compared to $10.65 billion a year earlier.

In anticipation of its profits, the oil industry went on the offensive, saying that 1 in 10 U.S. jobs created in 2011 were from Big Oil.

Shares of HR Block (HRB) plunged a day after the tax preparer said that it would cut 350 full-time jobs nationwide and close 200 “underperforming” offices. The move should save HR Block between $85 million to $100 million annually by the end of fiscal year 2013.

Pepsi’s (PEP, Fortune 500) stock edged higher after the company reported earnings of 69 cents per share and net revenue of more than $12.4 billion, beating expectations.

UPS (UPS, Fortune 500) reported earnings of $1 per share, missing expectations by 2 cents. The parcel delivery company, often seen as a bellwether of economic activity, reported revenue that was roughly in line with estimates.

Amazon (AMZN, Fortune 500) and Starbucks (SBUX, Fortune 500) will release their earnings after the bell. Analysts predict Amazon will post earnings of 7 cents a share, an 84% drop from a year earlier, on revenue of $12.9 billion. Meanwhile, Starbucks is expected to report earnings of 39 cents per share on revenue of $3.1 billion.

Currencies and commodities: The dollar lost strength against the euro, the Japanese yen and the British pound.

Oil for June delivery slipped 11 cents to $104.01 a barrel.

Gold futures for June delivery rose $8.40 to $1,650.70 an ounce.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury rose, pushing the yield down slightly to 1.97% from 1.98% late Wednesday.  To top of page

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Ahmed Elbatrawy