Stocks Higher as Employment Data, Deal News Bring Bulls Off Sidelines

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Stocks have reversed course and are moving into positive territory in mid-day trading following a sluggish morning session. The move comes after a pair of economic reports painted a positive picture on the U.S. economic recovery.

Before the bell this morning, ADP said its December tally of hiring shows payrolls growing by 297,000. The report may bode well for the private sector portion of the Labor Dept.'s December jobs report due for release early Friday.

Also released this morning, the December ISM services gauge came in at 57.1, up 2.1 points from November and better than MarketWatch-compiled consensus expectation among economists for 55.6. The employment sub-index decreased 2.2 percentage points to 50.5, indicating growth in employment for the fourth consecutive month, but at a slower rate.

In mid-day company news:

Shares of Pfizer ( PFE ) are down after India's Natco Pharma asked the drug maker for permission to sell discounted versions of its HIV medicine, the Economic Times reported. Natco said that the medicine was too expensive for patients in India.

Comcast ( CMCSA ) unveiled improvements to its application for the Apple ( AAPL ) iPad at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, reports MarketWatch. The application will soon be able to stream nearly everything Comcast shows on television. Comcast originally introduced the app in November.

Shares of American International Group ( AIG ) are advancing after the insurance giant--which is in the process of selling assets to repay a U.S. bailout--said it received a $3 billion offer for its Taiwan unit, Nan Shan Life Insurance , Bloomberg reported. Yesterday, AIG shares declined after it received a proposal from a local Taiwan company to buy a stake in AIG's Taiwan unit. The proposal from home security company Taiwan Secom Group is seen as pleasing regulators but likely is contrary to what AIG interests.

Shares of BJ's Wholesale Club ( BJ ) are lower after the discounter named replacements for its management team, as well as announcing store closures and staff reductions in the wake of weak December sales. The company blamed the Northeast's Christmas-week snowstorm for some of the poor performance. Despite same store sales for the month increasing to 3.8%, it still fell short of analysts' projections for comp sales of 4.4%.

ADRs of Bayer (BAYRY) are down after the company filed for approval in Europe of its drug Xarelto, which is used to prevent stroke, Reuters reported. Bayer co-developed the drug with Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). The moved is based on promising late-stage trial results.The drug is seen having potential annual sales of over $2.7 billion.

Qualcomm (QCOM) shares are advancing after the chip maker confirmed this morning that its is buying Atheros for $45 per share in cash, representing an enterprise value of $3.1 billion. The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2011. Excluding amortization of acquired intangibles, Qualcomm expects the acquisition to be modestly accretive to earnings per share in fiscal year 2012, the first full year of combined operations.

Citigroup (C) shares are inching higher following a Bloomberg report that Chief Executive Officer Vikram Pandit--along with Pramit Jhaveri, head of the bank's division in India-- were cleared in a fraud probe in that country.

Mattel (MAT) shares are fractionally higher after the toy maker today named Bryan Stockton, president of international, as new Chief Operating Officer. Stockton, who replaces outgoing president of MAT brands, Neil Friedman, who has been head of MAT's international division since 2003. He joined the company in 2000 as executive vice president of business planning and development.

Valero Energy (VLO) shuttered a 40,000 barrel-a-day refinery along the Texas gulf coast for maintenance, Bloomberg reported. The move is not expected to have a material impact on production.

Commodities are mixed. February gold contracts are down $5, or 0.37%, to $1,374 an ounce while February crude oil contacts are up 0.41%, or $0.37, at $89.75 a barrel.

In energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund (USO) is up 0.63% to $38.32 and the United States Natural Gas fund (UNG) is down 2.39% to $6.12.

In precious metal ETFs, the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) is down 0.44% to $134.16. Market Vectors Gold Miners (GDX) is down 1.36% to $58.24. iShares Silver Trust (SLV) is down 2.17% to $28.45.



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 , AIG , BJ , CMCSA , PFE

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