Mid-Day Update: Stocks Rally After Sharp Sell-Off; Employment Data Provides Support

Stocks are higher in mid-day trading as crude oil futures jump to trade above $100 a barrel and the broader market turns a corner after two straight days of steep losses. Better-than-expected employment figures are providing support.

In the latest economic news, new applications for unemployment benefits declined last week by 16,000 to 385,000, according to new data from the US Labor Department. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected first-time claims to fall to 389,000, the news outlet reported.

In company news:

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department have focused an investigation into possible manipulation of the London interbank offered rate, or LIBOR, by three banks, Bank of America Corp. ( BAC ), Citigroup ( C ), and UBS ( UBS ), The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed sources.

Kimberly-Clark Corp.( KMB ) is up near 1%, although selling has moved it off its early high of $63.96, after announcing this morning that it is raising prices on a range of products, including diapers and bathroom tissue. The price increases will come in the second and third quarters due to higher raw materials costs, the company said. Colgate-Palmolive Co. ( CL ) and Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) have also said they are likely to boost their prices, according to the AP.

Cardiovascular Systems (CSII) has received 510(k) marketing clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and has begun a limited market release for the Stealth 360B0 Orbital PAD System. Shares are unchanged in pre-market trading.

AstraZeneca (AZN) is defending its best-selling heartburn and stomach ulcer medication Nexium in court in France, Reuters reports. Two units of Teva Pharmaceuticals (TEVA) and Ethyphram--a French firm--are challenging patents protecting the drug, the report says.

In earnings news:

--FedEx (FDX) reports Q3 EPS of $0.81, a penny shy of the analyst consensus on Thomson Reuters. Revenue was $9.66 bln, vs. expectations of $9.61 bln. FedEx projects earnings to be $1.66 to $1.83 per diluted share in the fourth quarter and an adjusted $4.83 to $5.00 per diluted share for fiscal 2011. The Street is at $1.65 per share for Q4 and $4.87 per share for FY 2011.

--lululemon (LULU) reports Q4 revenue of $245.4 mln, better than the analyst consensus of $239 mln on Thomson Reuters. Earnings were $0.64, vs. expectations of $0.57 per share. For Q1, the company sees revenue in the range of $175 to $180 mln and EPS of $0.36 to $0.38 per share. The Street view is $181 mln in revenue and earnings of $0.36 per share. lululemon is down 2.1%

--China Valves Technology (CVVT) said late Wednesday Q4 sales were $52.3 million, above the Thomson Reuters mean for $44.1 million. It earned an adjusted $0.12 per share, below estimates for $0.31. It targets 25%-28% revenue growth for 2011 excluding any additional acquisitions.

--Ross Stores (ROST) says EPS were $1.37 in Q4, meeting the Thomson Reuters mean. Sales were $2.145 billion, more than estimates for $2.12307 billion.

--Guess? (GES) is down sharply after it reported late Wednesday Q4 EPS of $1.11 on revenue of $757 million. The Street view is for $1.06 per share in earnings on sales of $725.90 million.

Commodities are higher. April gold contracts are up $5, or 0.32%, to $1,401 an ounce while April crude oil contacts are up 2.5%, or $2.45, at $100.38 a barrel.

In energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund (USO) is up 2.35% to $40.61 and the United States Natural Gas fund (UNG) is up $0.48, or 4.54%, to $10.99.

In precious metal ETFs, the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) is up 0.36% to $136.73. Market Vectors Gold Miners (GDX) is up 0.62% to $55.58. iShares Silver Trust (SLV) is up 0.39% to $33.50.

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

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

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