Stocks Flat at Mid-day; Investors Look Ahead to Friday Employment Data

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Stocks are near even at mid-day, as investors decipher the latest government employment data, which showed a drop in weekly jobless claims that erased most of the increase in the prior week's data. Meanwhile, concern over new violence in Egypt weighed on generally positive corporate earnings and retailer's same-store sales figures.

Before the bell, new data from the Labor Department showed weekly jobless claims fell 42,000 to 415,000 with the four-week moving average rising 1,000 to 430,500.

Also, factory orders rose 0.2% in December, much stronger than the 0.4% decline expected by economists. This is the fifth increase in the past six months. Orders for durable goods fell 2.3% in December, better than the 2.5% drop estimated a week ago, Marketwatch.com reports. Orders for nondurable goods offset this weakness, rising 2.3% in the month.

In company news:

GlaxoSmithKline plc ( GSK ) and Theravance, Inc. ( THRX ) reported progress in two clinical development programs focused on new treatments for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients. The companies initiated Phase III program for the once-daily LAMA/LABA dual bronchodilator GSK573719/vilanterol, among other progress made. GlaxoSmithKline shares are up 2.62% to trade at $37.95 last check.

Tesoro ( TSO ) shares are down as Reuters reports the US refiner said that a fire last month at the company's 58,000 barrel per day refinery in North Dakota had a minimal impact on production. The refinery has reportedly run beyond its planned rates and repairs are expected to finished in March, the report said.

Apple ( AAPL ) and Verizon ( VZ ) shares are down even as the two begin taking pre-orders for the iPhone designed for use with the Verizon Wireless network. The move marks the end of AT&T's (T) exclusive contract with Apple to sell the iPhone.

Merck & Company Inc. (MRK) shares are down after the drug maker reported it swung to a loss in Q4 of $531 million, or 17 cents a share, from a year-earlier profit of $6.94 billion, or $2.35 a share. But adjusted earnings in the quarter were 88 cents a share, higher than the Street consensus forecast of 83 cents. Also, Bloomberg reported that the company's vaccine for preventing the HPV in women also reduces the rate of infection in men, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) is just higher as Bloomberg reports the bank is planning to withdraw money from its hedge-fund firm, Overland Advisors, which is seeking new investors. Wells is responding to US limitations on bank risk taking. The bank will withdraw $150 million every quarter until the first half of 2014, the report said.

ADRs of Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A) are down as the European oil major reported earnings that came short of what analysts were expecting. Shell earned $4.1 billion in the fourth quarter excluding one-time items and inventory charges. That came short of the $4.7 billion analysts had predicted for the refiner, according to a survey of analysts compiled by Bloomberg.

In retail sales:

--J. C. Penney (JCP) today posted its comparable store sales for the four-week period ended Jan. 29, which decreased 1.2%. Strong sales during the first two months of the quarter resulted in quarterly sales coming in above the company's expectations, according to the company.

--Nordstrom (JWN) reported that for January, its comparable-store sales saw an increase of 4.8% while total sales increased 11.8% to $607 million.

--Ross Stores (ROST) says January same-store sales grew 3%. Q4 sales were $2.145 billion, more than the Thomson Reuters mean for $2.1215 billion.

--Gap (GPS) reported its January 2011 net sales increased 6% compared with last year.

--Saks (SKS) reported that its sales totaled $163.6 million for the four weeks ended January 29, 2011 compared to $158.9 million for the four weeks ended January 30, 2010, seeing a 3% increase. Comparable store sales were up 4.4% for the month.

--Kohl's (KSS) reported that its January sales rose 3.4% compared to the same period in 2010. On a comparable store basis, January sales increased 1.4%. For the full year, total sales increased 7.1% and comparable store sales increased 4.4%.

In other earnings news:

--AutoNation (AN) announced that its fourth-quarter net income increased 9% on stronger sales of new vehicles.

--Blackstone Group (BX) says Q4 sales rose to $1.084015 billion from a year ago. Net loss was $0.03 per common unit.

--MasterCard (MA) reports Q4 EPS of $3.16 per share, better than the analyst consensus of $3.04 per share on Thomson Reuters. Revenue was $1.4 bln, in line with expectations.

--Kellogg (K) says Q4 sales were $2.9 billion, above the Thomson Reuters mean for $2.85 billion. It earned a net $0.51 per share, meeting estimates.

--ADRs of Sony Corp. (SNE) are higher after the company posted an operating profit of 137.52 billion yen or $1.68 billion compared with an average estimate of 127 billion yen in a poll of eight analysts by Thomson Reuters.

--Visa Inc. (V) is down after reporting its 2011 Q1 net income came in at $884 million, or $1.23 per share. That compares to net income of $763 million, or $1.03 per share, a year earlier. Net operating revenue was $2.2 billion, up 14% from the prior-year period driven by strong double-digit growth in service revenues, data-processing revenues and international transaction revenues. Analysts were expecting profit of $1.20 a share and revenue of $2.22 billion, according to FactSet.

--MasterCard (MA) shares are down after the credit card network reported fourth quarter earnings per share of $3.16, which is better than the analyst consensus of $3.04 per share on Thomson Reuters. Revenue was $1.4 billion, in line with expectations.

Commodities are mixed. April gold contracts are up $4, or 0.32%, to $1,337 an ounce while March crude oil contacts are down 0.24%, or $0.22, at $90.62 a barrel.

In energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund (USO) is down 0.08% to $38.16 and the United States Natural Gas fund (UNG) is down 1.59% to $5.89.

In precious metal ETFs, the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) is up 0.96% to $131.74. Market Vectors Gold Miners (GDX) is up 1.71% to $56.01. iShares Silver Trust (SLV) is up 0.98% to $27.96.



The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.

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This article appears in: Investing , Commodities

Referenced Stocks: AAPL , GSK , THRX , TSO , VZ

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