Midday Update: Wall Street Turns Defensive Ahead of February Payrolls Due Out Friday

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Stocks were modestly lower on Thursday despite rising oil prices today, with expectations of a bullish jobs report for February due out tomorrow seen as encouraging Federal Reserve policy-makers to keep the U.S. on course for a more restrictive monetary policy. Other economic data today continued to paint a mixed picture for the U.S. economy, showing a strong domestic labor market although the services and production sectors still face headwinds.

Initial jobless claims for the week ended Feb. 27 rose by 6,000 applications last week to 278,000, missing expectations for a slight decline to 270,000, but have remained consistently below 300,000 first-time claims for over a year.

Q4 non-farm productivity was revised slightly higher to a new reading of a 2.2% decline from the 3.0% dip first reported while unit labor costs increased 3.3% from +4.5% initially. And factory orders also rose 1.6% during January, trailing expectations for a 2.0% advance but partially reversing a 2.9% contraction during the previous month.

Services-sector data was mixed as well, with the Institute for Supply Management non-manufacturing index fallling to a 2-year low of 53.4 last month from January's 53.5 reading, although that still beat estimates for a steeper decline to 53.1 score. The final purchasing managers index for February also fell into contractionary levels last month with a 49.7 from its 53.2 score the prior month.

European equities ended a five-day winning streak, with lower closes on Thursday led by health care stocks after after Moody's cut its outlook on the global pharmaceutical sector to stable from positive.

Crude oil was up 22 cents to $34.89 per barrel. Natural gas was down 1 cents to $1.67 per 1 million BTU. Gold was up $14.30 to $1,256.40 per ounce, while silver was up 18 cents to $15.20 per ounce. Copper was up 2 cents to $2.20 per pound.

Among energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund was down 0.54% to $9.25 with the United States Natural Gas Fund was down $0.34 to $5.89. Among precious-metal funds, the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF was up 3.78% to 19.77 while SPDR Gold Shares were up 1.17% $120.05. The iShares Silver Trust was down 1.33% to $14.44.

Here's where the U.S. markets stood at mid-day:

NYSE Composite Index up 66.59 (+0.68%)to 9,837.59

Dow Jones Industrial Average up 34.24 (+0.20%) to 16,899.32

S&P 500 up 34.24 (+0.20%) to 16,899.32

Nasdaq Composite Index up 13.83 (+0.29%) to 4,703.42


Nikkei 225 Index up 1.28%

Hang Seng Index down 0.31%

Shanghai China Composite Index up 0.35%

FTSE 100 Index down 0.27%

CAC 40 down 0.20%

DAX down 0.25%


NYSE Energy Sector Index +0.89%

NYSE Financial Sector Index +0.32%

NYSE Healthcare Sector Index -1.02%


(+) TUMI (+27.12%) WSJ reporting that Samsonite is nearing a deal to acquire for approximately $2 billion

(+) SSYS (+12.35%) Q4 beats views, 2016 guidance mostly above Street view

(+) SMTC (+8.48%)Reported better-than-expected Q4 results and issued strong Q1 guidance

(+) TAST (+4.62%) Q4 tops views, sees 2016 sales above Street


(-) CIEN (-19.07%) Missed Q1 revenue estimates, issued soft guidance

(-) SUNE (-12.85%) Suspends quarterly dividend on preferred stock

(-) BANC (-5.96%) Prices 4.9 million share sale at 8% discount

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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