Stocks Choppy Ahead of Obama's Address to Congress; Commodities Mixed

Stocks made a brief run into positive territory but have fallen back into the red at mid-day ahead of President Obama's speech on jobs to a joint session of Congress. New data released this morning showed a rise in jobless claims and set the tone for Obama's speech, which will outline a new spending to boost hiring in the sluggish economy.

Jobless claims rose to 414,000 from 412,000. Initial claims from two weeks ago were revised up from an original reading of 409,000. The average of new claims over the past four weeks, meanwhile, rose by 3,750 to 414,750, the highest level since mid-July.

Also reported this morning, the Commerce Department said the trade deficit narrowed to a seasonally adjusted $44.8 billion in July from $51.6 billion in June, a decline of 13.1% -- the largest percentage decline since February 2009.

Obama is slated to deliver a televised speech on jobs to Congress after markets have closed, at 7:00 p.m. ET. The president is expected to propose an extension of the expiring payroll-tax cuts and push for new spending on infrastructure.

Global investors are awaiting word from Washington on the possibility of more help for the economy. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is also slated to speak.

The cost of a 30-year fixed mortgage hit a new record for the third consecutive week, dropping to 4.35%, according to's weekly national survey. The average 15-year fixed mortgage remained at 3.48% while the larger jumbo 30-year fixed rate set a new low of 4.86%.

Oil prices have turned lower, slipping below $89 a barrel, despite a new Energy Information Administration report that U.S. stockpiles fell sharply last week by 4 million barrels, three times as much as analysts predicted.

In company news:

Shares of Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ ) are higher in regular-session trade, sitting just off session highs, after Bloomberg reported that the drug and medical products maker, along with C.R. Bard, may be required to submit additional safety data on a surgical mesh the resulted in about 500 lawsuits. A panel of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is meeting to discuss whether the mesh is safe and effective.

Shares of Cisco Systems ( CSCO ) are holding firm and building on pre-market gains after the stock was upgraded to Buy from Hold at Auriga. The price target for the firm was raised to $20 from $16. In his note, Auriga analyst Sandeep Shyamsukha wrote that the networking equipment maker is "now well positioned to gain market share in key segments like switching, routing and servers in both enterprise and service provider segments from competitors," MarketWatch report on the upgrade.

Shares of Pfizer ( PFE ) are higher after the company said its experimental pill to treat rheumatoid arthritis showed the medicine was as effective as Abbott's ( ABT ) injectable Humira drug, but more patients taking it had serious side effects.

Shares of Bank of America ( BAC ) are down in regular-session trading as the company is slated to close up to 600 branches as a part of its continued reorganization efforts, reports

Shares of Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) are higher Reuters reports the company has hired the former head of the largest food retailer in Russia, called X5, citing a company spokeswoman. The executive will be a senior vice-president and chief leverage officer. The move is seen as a sign that Russia has yet to abandon its plans to enter the Russian market.

Commodities are mixed. December gold contracts are up 2.41% to $1,861 an ounce while October crude oil contacts are down 0.67% to $88.78 a barrel.

In energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund (USO) is down 0.12% to $34.67 and the United States Natural Gas fund (UNG) is up 1.71%, to $10.10.

In precious metal ETFs, the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) is up 2.1% to $180.85. Market Vectors Gold Miners (GDX) is up 2.05% to $66.77. iShares Silver Trust (SLV) is up 1.95% to $41.32.

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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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