Stocks extended their recent losing streak on Thursday, after an unexpected surge in weekly jobless claims unnerved the bulls ahead of today's highly anticipated employment report. Nevertheless, the tides appear to have shifted ahead of the bell today, after the Labor Department said nonfarm payrolls advanced by 244,000 in April -- more than the 175,000 rise expected by economists -- and upped February and March figures by 46,000. However, an extended sell-off in the commodities pits could rain on a few bulls' parade, with crude oil continuing its retreat into double-digit territory, and silver futures steepening their month-to-date slide. At last check, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA ) is set to open nearly 47 points higher, while the broader S&P 500 Index (SPX ) is bracing for a 5-point gain out of the gate.
In equities news, Kraft Foods (KFT - 33.39) reported an adjusted first-quarter profit of 52 cents per share, surpassing the Street's per-share profit predictions by a nickel. Revenue climbed 11% to $12.57 billion, topping analysts' expectations for sales of $12.32 billion. Going forward, the Dow component forecast full-year operating earnings of "at least" $2.20 per share, just two pennies shy of the consensus estimate among analysts. In pre-market trading, KFT has tacked on 1.1%.
For its fiscal second quarter, Visa Inc. (V - 78.70) said net income jumped 24% to $881 million, or $1.23 per share, with revenue advancing 15% to $2.25 billion. Analysts, on average, were calling for a quarterly profit of $1.20 per share on $2.23 billion in sales. Chairman and CEO Joseph Saunders called the quarter "solid," and noted "double-digit growth in payment volume, cross border volume and Visa-processed transactions from across the globe." Furthermore, the company unveiled a new $1 billion stock-buyback plan, and reaffirmed its fiscal-year guidance. Ahead of the bell, V is set to open about 1.5% lower.
Elsewhere, Priceline.com (PCLN - 533.97) reported net income of $104.8 million, or $2.05 per share, nearly doubling the $53.9 million, or $1.06 per share, earned a year ago. Excluding items, the online travel agent recorded a profit of $137 million, or $2.66 per share, blowing past analysts' forecast for per-share earnings of $2.44. Meanwhile, revenue soared a year-over-year 39% to $809.3 million, exceeding the Street's estimates for sales of $779.3 million. In addition, PCLN forecast adjusted second-quarter earnings of $4.70 to $4.90 per share, and said Christopher L. Soder will be promoted to CEO on June 2. At last check, PCLN is poised to drop 1.8%.
Finally, WellCare Health Plans (WCG - 42.44) banked a first-quarter profit of $21.3 million, or 50 cents per share, significantly improved from its year-ago earnings of $6.4 million, or 15 cents per share. Excluding items, WCG earned 66 cents per share, while revenue climbed 8.8% to $1.47 billion. Analysts were looking for a profit of just 16 cents per share on $1.45 billion in revenue. Looking ahead, WCG hiked its full-year earnings forecast to a range between $3.35 and $3.65 per share, compared to its prior guidance of $2.45 to $2.70 per share. In pre-market trading, WCG is set to soar 3.6%.
Today's earnings docket will feature reports from AIG Inc. ( AIG ), Constellation Energy ( CEG ), EOG Resources ( EOG ), Mohawk Industries (MHK), Weight Watchers International (WTW), and YRC Worldwide (YRCW), just to name a few. Keep your browser at SchaeffersResearch.com for more news as it breaks.
The Labor Department's highly anticipated unemployment data took center stage this morning, and the Fed's monthly consumer credit report is slated for release this afternoon.
Equity option activity on the Chicago Board Options Exchange ( CBOE ) saw 1,212,796 call contracts traded on Thursday, compared to 780,509 put contracts. The resultant single-session put/call ratio docked at 0.64, while the 21-day moving average remained at 0.61.
Most Asian stocks ended in the red today, with mining- and resource-related stocks blazing the trail lower in parity with commodity prices. Specifically, Cnooc Ltd. gave up more than 2% in Hong Kong, PetroChina led Shanghai laggards with a 2.2% drop, and Inpex Corp. surrendered more than 6% in Tokyo. By the close, Japan's Nikkei returned from its holiday hiatus to finish nearly 1.5% lower, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.4% -- its eighth straight decline -- and Shanghai-listed stocks swallowed a 0.3% loss.
Elsewhere, sagging commodity prices were also weighing on European stocks, though a round of encouraging earnings reports from the banking sector have kept most indexes afloat. Most notably, Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Commerzbank AG were higher on the heels of celebrated quarterly reports, while airline issue Deutsche Lufthansa AG was up more than 5% thanks to an upgrade to "buy" at UBS. At last check, Germany's DAX is up 0.5%, France's CAC 40 is trading with a 0.3% gain, while London's FTSE 100 has backpedaled 0.3%.
Currencies and Commodities
After skyrocketing against the euro on Thursday, the greenback has pared some of its gains, with the U.S. dollar index down almost 0.2%. Elsewhere, crude futures have extended their retreat into single-digit territory; at last check, the June-dated contract has given up 2.1% to hover around $97.73 per barrel. Meanwhile, gold futures have rebounded slightly from yesterday's drubbing, tacking on 0.2% to linger near $1,484.80 an ounce. On the flip side, silver has continued its tumble, falling 4.9%.
Unusual Put and Call Activity:
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