Stocks are off session lows but still mixed at mid-day, despite new data released before the bell that showed new claims for unemployment benefits fell and that the country's trade deficit contracted. Several reports blamed a combination of factors for the day's bearish sentiment including a strengthened dollar and new troubles for Dow component Boeing ( BA ).
For its part, Boeing is down after several reports that the emergency landing on Tuesday of a test flight of a 787 Dreamliner followed a fire that knocked out some of the all-electric jet's systems, a person with knowledge of the matter said.
Also, the dollar index is at its highest level since the end of October, MarketWatch reports.
The number of workers who filed new claims for unemployment benefits fell 24,000 last week to 435,000, the federal government reported Wednesday, continuing a recent see-saw pattern that's given mixed signals about the U.S. labor market. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected initial claims to fall to a seasonally adjusted 450,000 in the week ended Nov. 6.
Also reported, the nation's trade deficit contracted 5.3% in September to $44.0 billion from $46.5 billion in August, the Commerce Department said. The government initially pegged August's deficit at $46.3 billion. Analysts surveyed by MarketWatch had expected the deficit to narrow to $45 billion in September.
In company news, BJ's Wholesale Club ( BJ ) rises after The New York Post reports that the company is considering hiring an adviser to review options including a potential sale to a leveraged-buyout firm. The story cited people close to the company.
Cisco ( CSCO ) shares are down ahead of a highly anticpated report from that company's Chief Executive John Chambers. The maker of computer networking equipment is expected to report strong results results for Q1, according to Reuters. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters are expecting the company to report a profit of $0.40 per share on revenue of $10.74 billion.
Merck & Co. ( MRK ) is gearing up to report results from an advanced trail of a drug that combats heart disease by raising good cholesterol levels in the blood, according to a Bloomberg report. The article notes that Pfizer had abandoned a similar drug four years ago. The new treatment, if effective, would be the biggest advance in heart disease in the 20 years since arrival of statins, a group of drugs including Pfizer's Lipitor.
Shares of foreclosed property insurer Assurant ( AIZ ) traded down by double digits following an article in American Banker that noted "evidence of abuses" in the industry.
Shares of Bionovo ( BNVI ) are higher in pre-market trading as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the clinical development plan for a drug to treat hot flashses related to menopause. The drug, called Menerba, is also being investigated for possible uses to treat breast cancer, the report says.
Research in Motion ( RIMM ) is planning a foray into the ever-crowded tablet market after the company said it will begin selling the BlackBerry PlayBook for less than $500, suggesting RIM is looking to take on Apple's ( AAPL ) iPad, Bloomberg reported. The iPad currently starts at $499 for a model with 32 gigabytes of storage. RIM follows Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ ), Motorola ( MOT ) and Samsung, all of which moved into the tablet market following Apple unveiling the iPad.
Dutch financial services firm ING Groep ( ING ) said it is taking steps to prepare its U.S-based insurance unit for an initial public offering, according to a Bloomberg report on the matter. Already, ING rose in European trading after it said it plans to bring accounting and hedging practices for variable annuity products more in line with its U.S. peers, the report said.
An anti-corruption watchdog group in Brazil has called on Petroleo Brasileiro ( PBR ) to stop construction on projects at two refineries on charges of over billing, according to a Reuters report. In a report released yesterday, the group said that the Brazilian refiner had paid too much for goods and services in its upgrade of the plant.
Limelight Networks Inc ( LLNW ) is up more than 4% on speculation that the network services provider has won business from Netflix Inc. ( NFLX ), beating out Akamai Technologies Inc ( AKAM ). Akamai currently provides Netflix with its video streaming technology. Netflix has not commented on the rumors.
Lions Gate ( LGF ) shares are lower after the film studio said it swung to a second-quarter loss because of debt payment charges and higher costs. The studio has been in a battle over the last year trying to fend off a hostile takeover bid from activist investor Carl Ichan, Reuters reported. Lions Gate posted a loss of $29.7 million, or 22 cents per share, for its fiscal second quarter. That is compared with a net profit of $31.7 million, or 27 cents per share, a year earlier. Still, the independent studio said it is on track to make its fiscal 2011 target of $75 million in earnings, the report noted.
In other earnings news:
--Smart Technologies Inc ( SMT ) is down as it reported second quarter profit falling as income tax more than doubled. The digital whiteboard maker was also bearish on its outlook for the latter half of 2011.
--Macy's ( M ) reported a swing to a Q3 profit and raised its guidance. The department store chain reported earning $10 million, or 2 cents per share, compared with a loss of $35 million, or 8 cents per share, a year ago. Ex items, the department store chain earned 8 cents per share. Analysts' consensus view was for 5 cents. Revenue rose 6.6% to $5.6 billion, while analysts were looking for $5.56 billion, according to a Thomson Reuters poll.
--Polo Ralph Lauren ( RL ) says Q2 sales were $1.5 billion and EPS were $2.09. The Thomson Reuters mean was for $1.71 per share in earnings and $1.48 billion in sales.
--Campbell ( CPB ) says it is lowering its full-year guidance due to Q1 results that were weaker than originally planned and the company's current outlook for the remainder of the year. It attributes its change in guidance to increased promotional spending that resulted in lower-than-planned purchases of its soup by U.S. consumers, amid weak economic conditions and intense competitive pricing activity.
Commodities are mixed as December gold contracts are down $14, or 1%, to $1,396 an ounce while December crude contacts are up 1.13%, or $1, at $87.72 a barrel.
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