From Morrison Securities Pty. Ltd.
U.S. Stock Markets
U.S. stocks rose Thursday, aiming for a third-consecutive advance, on a batch of better-than-expected readings on the state of the domestic economy.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 63 points, or 0.5%, to 12171 Thursday afternoon, building on a 341-point advance post in the prior two sessions.
The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index rose 11 points, or 0.9%, to 1254, and the Nasdaq Composite was 23 points higher, or 0.9%, at 2601.
Financial stocks were the strongest gainers. Many investors were packing up for the holidays. Trading volume was relatively light, at 2.2 billion shares in New York Stock Exchange composite volume by mid afternoon. The average for a full day this year is 4.3 billion shares.
Another healthier reading on the jobs market led the U.S. economic data. Initial jobless claims decreased 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 364,000 in the week ended Dec. 17, according to the Labor Department, the third drop in a row and a better reading than the 14,000 rise in claims economists expected.
The decline carried claims to the lowest since the week ended April 19, 2008. Also helping stocks, the Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators showed the seventh-straight monthly advance for November, and U.S. consumer attitudes were somewhat brighter at the end of December compared with earlier this month, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer-sentiment index showed.
The data points served to overshadow the Commerce Department's downward revision of the estimate of third-quarter U.S. economic growth, to an annualized 1.8%, below economists' forecast of 2%. Technology bellwether Oracle, which led a selloff in tech stocks Wednesday, lost another 0.3%.
The stock had dropped 12% in the previous session after delivering a rare earnings miss for the quarter ending in November, suggesting business-software customers had slowed down orders. Akamai Technologies was the strongest stock in the S&P 500 on a percentage basis, gaining 19%.The company agreed to acquire Cotendo, a maker of mobile-network acceleration software, for about $268 million in cash.
Micron Technology was another top S&P 500 performer, rising 17%. The memory-chip maker reported a wider-than-expected fiscal first quarter loss, but its margins remained flat despite a weak pricing environment. Mead Johnson Nutrition was one of the S&P 500's weakest stocks, falling 12%. The Associated Press reported Thursday that Wal-Mart Stores pulled a batch of the company's baby formula from more than 3,000 stores after a Missouri infant fed the formula died. Wal-Mart edged down 0.4%.
European Stock Markets
European stock markets ended the day with strong gains Thursday, as pre-holiday volumes thinned out and investors bought up resource stocks, banks and insurers.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index closed 1% higher at 239.8. Data showed U.S. weekly jobless claims fell more than expected to 364,000, but that was paired with a downward revision to third-quarter gross domestic product. Shares of Deutsche Bank AG rose 3.2% and ING Groep NV added 4.3%. BNP Paribas SA gained 3.4%.
Paul Kavanagh, partner at Killik & Co., said that markets Thursday appeared to be taking a slightly more positive view on the European Central Bank funding operation.
Yields for 10-year Italian bonds crept higher to 6.79% against 6.33% the prior day, though Spanish 10-year-bond yields were up more modestly at 5.30%. Hungary's BUX benchmark stock index fell 0.8% to 17,462.5 a day after Standard & Poor's cut the country's credit rating to junk status, lowering it to BB-plus from BBB-minus.
Among the major bourses, the French CAC 40 index was up 1.3% at 3,071.8 as heavily weighted energy group Total SA rose 1%. Shares of luxury-goods group LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA also rose 1%.
In Frankfurt, banks helped boost the German DAX 30 index, which was up 1% at 5,852.2. In addition to Deutsche Bank, shares of Commerzbank AG rose 2.2%. Shares of business-software group SAP AG rose 1.5%, bouncing back from a 6% tumble the prior session in the wake of downbeat earnings from rival Oracle Corp.
Banks and insurers helped the FTSE 100 index rise 1.3% to 5,457, in the last full trading day for London markets before the Christmas break. Among the gainers, shares of Lloyds Banking Group PLC rose 3.7% and Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC rose 4%.
Asia-Pacific Stock Markets
Asian stock markets ended mostly lower Thursday amid expectations that the European Central Bank's massive lending to euro-zone banks won't solve the region's debt crisis. Investor caution ahead of the year-end continued to affect trading volumes across most of the region.
China's Shanghai Composite declined 0.2% to 2186.30, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 0.2% to 18,378.23, South Korea's Kospi slipped 0.1% to 1847.49 and Taiwan's Taiex ended flat at 6966.35. Japan's Nikkei Stock Average closed 0.8% lower at 8395.16, heading into a three-day weekend.
Toyota Motor Corp. fell 0.6% after saying its sales were estimated to fall 6% in 2011, likely costing the company its position as the world's biggest auto maker by sales. Alibaba.com Ltd. fell 0.5% in Hong Kong and Yahoo Japan Corp. added 2.1% in Tokyo, following reports that Yahoo Inc. was in talks to shed most of its ownership in the Asian assets.
Technology shares were in focus after the Nasdaq Composite underperformed other major benchmarks in the U.S. Advantest Corp. lost 4.5% and Renesas Electronics Corp. dropped 0.9% in Tokyo, while Hynix Semiconductor Inc. fell 0.9% in Seoul. Gold miners tracked a loss for gold futures in overnight New York trade. Zijin Mining Group Co. fell 2.3% in Hong Kong and 0.8% in Shanghai.
Base metals closed mixed on the London Metal Exchange Thursday, supported by several encouraging economic data, although trade was relatively subdued in ahead of the holidays.
At the close, LME three-month copper was 1.1% higher at $7,535 a metric ton, while nickel lagged the complex, closing 1.5% lower on the day at $18,695/ton. Oil futures bounced around $100 a barrel Thursday, rising with equities, improved jobs data and continued momentum from Wednesday's numbers showing a tightening supply.
Light, sweet crude for February delivery rose as high as $100.05 a barrel, but settled up $0.86 at $99.53 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Traders and analysts said the market was taking its cue from equity markets and a Labor Department report earlier in the day showing new jobless claims dropping by 4,000 to 364,000 in the week ended Dec. 17, their lowest level since April 2008.
Gold prices slipped but kept above the psychologically important $1,600 level, as ongoing concerns about Europe's debt problems saw some investors move to the sidelines. Gold for February delivery, the most active contract, settled $3.00, or 0.2%, lower at $1,610.60 a troy ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange.