Stocks Mixed at Session's Half on Slowing Q1 Economy; Crude Futures Advance

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Stock are mixed in mid-day trading as investors digest new data showing the economy slowed in the first quarter while weekly jobless claims moved higher. But a rise in pending home sales in March is lending support, with both the Dow and S&P 500 clinging to gains.

Pending home sales contracts rose 5.1% last month, sending the National Association of Realtors' pending home sales index up to 94.1. That's 24% over last June when the index bottomed out. A reading over 100 signals a healthy market.

But weighing on investors, real gross domestic product rose at a 1.8% annualized rate in the first quarter, down from a 3.1% increase in the fourth quarter, due to a slowdown in consumer spending. Wall Street was expecting a 1.7% reading. Also out, weekly jobless claims jump 25,000 to 429,000 in the latest week.


Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected claims to decline to 395,000. Claims in the prior week were revised up slightly to 404,000. The average of new claims over the past four weeks, meanwhile, rose by 9,250 to 408,500, the highest level since mid-February.

In company news:

Vertex Pharmaceuticals ( VRTX ) is higher as the FDA's Antiviral Drugs Advisory Committee meets today to review the New Drug Application (NDA) for telaprevir. The NDA for telaprevir was granted Priority Review by the FDA, and the FDA is expected to make a decision on the approval of telaprevir by May 23.

The boards of directors of Exelon Corporation ( EXC ) and Constellation Energy ( CEG ) confirmed late Wednesday reports that they have signed a definitive agreement to combine the two companies in a stock-for-stock transaction. The resulting company will retain the Exelon name and be headquartered in Chicago.

CytRx ( CYTR ) is up after it says its tumor-targeting, pro-drug candidate INNO-206 has been approved for orphan drug designation to treat patients with pancreatic cancer by the Office of Orphan Products Development of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). CYTR holds the exclusive worldwide development and commercialization rights to INNO-206.

Shares of BB&T Corp. ( BBT ) and PNC Financial (PNC) are higher after a Bloomberg report that the two have shown interest in buying Royal Bank of Canada's (RBC) US consumer bank. RBC is said to be seeking stock for its consumer unit instead of cash, the report said, citing people with knowledge of the matter.

Apple (AAPL) shares are lower after the computer maker purchased the iCloud name for $4.5 million, according to the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal. The purchase is reported to be for a cloud-based music service. The name was being used by Xcerion, a Swedish company, for a cloud storage product until earlier this month.

In earnings news:

--Royal Caribbean (RCL) says it earned $0.42 per share in Q1, up from a year ago. Revenues rose to $1.7 billion from $1.5 billion a year ago. It says full year EPS guidance has been reduced by $0.15 per share to a range of $3.10 to $3.30.

--Hercules Offshore (HERO) says Q1 net loss was $0.12 per diluted share, on revenue of $166.2 million. The Thomson Reuters mean was for a $0.13 loss on sales of $164.40 million.

--Viacom (VIA,VIA.B) says Q2 sales were $3.27 billion, more than the Thomson Reuters mean for $3.00929 billion. Adjusted EPS were $0.72, a dime above forecasts.

--Aetna (AET) says Q1 operating earnings were $1.43 per share, above the Thomson Reuters mean of $0.97. Sales were $8.3 billion, about in line with the FactSet Research estimate for $8.32 billion. FY EPS are now seen between $4.20 and $4.30, above estimates for $3.73.

--Procter & Gamble (PG) reports fiscal Q3 EPS from continuing operations of $0.96, up 16% from the year-ago period but a penny below the Street view for $0.97. Sales of $20.2 billion rose 5%. The company guides for 2011 EPS at $3.89 to $3.94. The Street is at $3.96.

--InterMune (ITMN) says it is not currently in discussions regarding a sale of the company. Q1 sales rose to $6.4 million from a year ago from $6.1 million. Net loss narrowed $0.57 from a loss of $0.66 per share a year ago.

--Exxon Mobil (XOM) is reporting Q1 EPS of $2.14 compared to $1.33 a year earlier and topping the Thomson Reuters mean analyst estimate for $2.07, according to reports. Revenue of $114 billion is up from $90 billion. The Street expected $114.9 billion.

Commodities are higher. June gold contracts are up 1.25%, to $1,536 an ounce while June crude oil contacts are up 0.66% to $113.50 a barrel.

In energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund (USO) is down 0.44% to $44.82 and the United States Natural Gas fund (UNG) is up 3.16%, to $11.74.

In precious metal ETFs, the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) is up 0.03% at $149.24. Market Vectors Gold Miners (GDX) is up 0.32% to $61.81. iShares Silver Trust (SLV) is up 0.57% to $47.30.



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: BBT , CEG , CYTR , EXC , VRTX

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