Stocks are higher in mid-day trading after a mid-morning swoon into the red after new data showed stronger-than-expected rise in consumer confidence and a continued decline in household debt, while finance ministers continued to mull ways to tackle Europe's sovereign debt problems.
In economic data, household debt fell for the 12th straight consecutive quarter, according to data released by the Federal Reserve. Household debt declined by a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.6%.
Stocks held gains after slightly stronger-than-expected consumer sentiment based on the latest Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey. The gauge of consumer sentiment rose to 57.8 in a preliminary reading for September after tumbling to a nearly a three-year low 55.7 in August, according to the report. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected a slight rise to 57.3.
Off the open, Wall Street struck a defensive stance as a meeting of euro-zone finance ministers in Poland takes place that will include U.S. Treasury officials. Global markets rallied on Thursday when the European Central Bank and four other major central banks said they will provide additional dollar loans to banks in Europe and elsewhere. Banking share gains are pushing Europe's averages higher again today. Asia also closed higher.
In company news:
ADRs of Bayer AG ( BAYRY ) are down in mid-day trading after Reuters reported that the German drug maker is looking to reshuffle its contract agents business by looking at ways to merge marketing efforts with its U.S. medical devices unit, Medrad. The move comes as Bayer is in the middle of a restructuring effort to cut $1.1 billion in costs.
Chevron ( CVX ) said today that its chemical company, Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. LLC, will buy a polyalphaolefin manufacturing plant in Belgium from Neste Oil. The company said that the acquisition is expected to double the production capabilities of Chevron Phillips, which CVX co-owns with ConocoPhillips ( COP ).
Shares of 99 Cents Only Stores ( NDN ) are higher after The New York Post reported late Thursday that Apollo Global Management LLC was expected to make an acquisition offer valued at $22 to $24 a share for NDN.
Amylin Pharmaceuticals ( AMLN ) and Eli Lilly's (LLY) Byetta and Novo Nordisk A/S's (NVO) Victoza, two insulin-related diabetes drugs, don't appear to carry an increased risk of cancer based on available data, according to a German researcher.
The St. Joe Co. (JOE) is higher after disclosing a stockholder agreement with activist investor Fairholme Funds, allowing it to acquire beneficial ownership of up to 50% of the company's outstanding common stock. The company had previously approved, in 2009, Fairholme's acquisition of beneficial ownership of up to 30% of its outstanding common stock.
Nokia (NOK) is down ahead of plans to drop the stock Friday from a benchmark index of Europe's biggest stocks because of the sharp fall in its market value. NOK will exit the index after Friday's trading session and fund managers investing in the STOXX Europe 50 index will have to adjust their portfolios to match the new index composition.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) has shed early upside and is trading down after it shut down a high-profile hedge fund in the face of substantial losses this year. Goldman broke the news about the $1.6 billion Global Alpha fund late yesterday on the heels of a management shake-up at the fund, considered its top quantitative trading business, according to Reuters. The fund has fallen 13% this month, turning in a sub-par performance compared with other quantitative computer-traded funds.
Commodities are mixed. December gold contracts are up 1.86% to $1,814 an ounce while October crude oil contacts are down 1.98% to $87.63 a barrel.
In energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund (USO) is down 1.65% to $34.03 and the United States Natural Gas fund (UNG) is down 1.07%, to $9.70.
In precious metal ETFs, the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) is up 1.29% to $176.72. Market Vectors Gold Miners (GDX) is up 1.85% to $64.01. iShares Silver Trust (SLV) is up 2.55% to $39.80.
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