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After the Close - The stock market opened higher this morning, and by midday had managed to extend its gains. Furthermore, traders continued to stay the course, buying equities into the late afternoon, which showed a commitment to the rally, even as we eagerly await the release of the monthly Employment report tomorrow. At the close of the day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 131 points (0.9%); the broader S&P 500 Index gained 15 points (0.9%); and the technology-heavy NASDAQ tacked on 42 points (1.3%). After yesterday’s selloff, the Russell 2000, a small cap index, rebounded sharply, too. Market breadth showed broad-based participation, as winning stocks outnumbered losers by about 3 to 1 on the NYSE. There was a similarly strong showing on the NASDAQ. As for market strength, new highs totaled about 650, versus about 75 new lows on the NYSE.

Essentially, all of the major market sectors moved higher today, with leadership in the transports, technology, and healthcare issues. Unfortunately, the utility stocks, which actually declined, could not keep pace with the rest of the market.

Technically, the S&P 500 Index has been quite volatile over the past few days, and that may hint that traders are a bit divided in their outlook. Today’s big move up put the Index back near new high territory at the 1,598 mark. The VIX was sharply lower to about 13.5 further suggesting traders are feeling bullish.

Before trading opened, meantime, Wall Street got some good news from abroad, as the ECB cut interest rates in an effort to stimulate that region’s economy. And at home, today’s economic news was constructive, too. We had two notable releases. First, weekly initial jobless claims came in at 324,000 down from the prior week’s upwardly revised 342,000. Analysts had expected a far less favorable reading for the current week, so the news came as a surprise. Possibly traders are now betting that the monthly employment report due out tomorrow will be decent. Second, we received a generally favorable trade balance report, as the deficit narrowed to $38.8 billion from $43.6 billion last month.

Meanwhile, the earnings reports still played a role in the day’s trading. Facebook (FB) stock was up on mixed results. Revenues surpassed expectations, while earnings lagged. Also in the Internet area, Yelp (YELP) saw its stock jump on a strong top-line gain.  - Adam Rosner

At the time of this article’s writing the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.

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12:30 PM EDT - Stocks are trading higher today on the back of some promising news in the labor market. This morning’s report that weekly initial unemployment claims fell to their lowest level in five years holds out hope that tomorrow’s monthly government employment report might come in better than expected. That is in sharp contrast to yesterday’s disappointing private-sector jobs report from payroll processor Automatic Data Processing (ADP), which had a negative effect on sentiment, and contributed to the selling pressure on Wednesday.

Right around noontime on the East Coast, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is 120 points higher and the NASDAQ is ahead 38 points. Market breadth is strongly positive, as well, with gainers outpacing decliners by more than two to one on the Big Board.

In other news, the European Central Bank (ECB) lowered its benchmark lending rate from 0.75% to 0.5%, in a move that showed the Continent’s ills are far from cured. Stocks across the Atlantic didn’t react much to the strategy, possibly suggesting investors see a long road to prosperity ahead.

The one thing that seems sure, though, is that once the European Union does start to enjoy a solid economic upturn, business prospects in the United States would get a lift. Much has been made of the slowness of the recovery stateside, but that is in large part owing to weak conditions in the Old World. A number of corporations have noted that their performance is being held back by Europe’s poor business environment. The ECB’s more aggressive policy stance is aimed at restarting growth in the region.

Meanwhile, stocks are drawing selective support from companies turning in better-than-projected results, as earnings season begins to wind down. On the plus side, shares of online directory service provider Yelp (YELP) are basking in the glow of strong sales growth and the stock of specialty chemicals manufacturer OM Group (OMG) stock is notably higher on surging profits.

Automaker General Motors (GM) shares are also doing well. Although the company’s profits were lower than a year earlier, they topped analysts’ forecasts.

Other issues performing well include those of insurer Prudential Financial (PRU) and Cardinal Health (CAH).

On the down side Kellogg’s (K) stock is off, as the cereal maker reported disappointing earnings.

Heading into afternoon trading stocks are trading near their best levels of the session. But uncertainty over Friday’s big employment report could potentially limit further gains. -Robert Mitkowski

At the time this article was written, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.

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Stocks to Watch from The Survey Although many large-cap bellwether companies have already released March-period results, earnings season is certainly not over yet. Indeed, investors are poring over quarterly reports from a number of companies this morning. Thus far, Wall Street appears to be pleased with updates from social network operator Facebook (FB), automaker General Motors (GM), homebuilder Beazer Homes (BZH), credit card processor Visa (V), hotel and casino operators MGM Resorts (MGM) and Las Vegas Sands (LVS), media company CBS Corp. (CBS), and fiberoptic telecommunications equipment manufacturer JDS Uniphase (JDSU).

It was not all good news, however, and shares of packaged foods powerhouse Kellogg (K), medical supplies company Charles River Laboratories (CRL), cosmetics manufacturer and marketer Estee Lauder (EL), and agricultural products company Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) are all trending lower ahead of the bell on earnings news. – Matthew E. Spencer

At the time of this article’s writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.

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Before The Bell - The stock market succumbed to some long-awaited and likely needed profit taking yesterday, as equities began the session to the downside and could not muster any positive momentum during the day. The losses were material in the major large-cap averages, but even more notable in the small- and mid-cap sector, which was underscored by the woeful advance-decline ratios on both the Big Board and the NASDAQ.

All told, the Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 139 points; the aforementioned NASDAQ gave back 30 points, or nearly one full percentage point; and the Standard and Poor's 500 Index lost 15 points. Interestingly, each of these three indexes lost 0.9% on the day. However, the Dow Transportation Average dropped 2.3%; the S&P Mid-Cap 400 Index lost 1.8%; and the small-cap Russell 2000 Composite plunged 2.5%.

Behind this poor showing was a pair of disappointing economic reports. Specifically, at 8:15AM (EDT), Automatic Data Processing (ADP) noted that its survey of private-sector payrolls for April showed that 119,000 jobs had been created in that just-ended month. That was well below the 155,000 jobs that had been forecast, and was modestly below the prior month's estimated increase. The dour payroll result could well prove a bad omen for the more widely followed government payroll report due out this Friday morning. For now, estimates are that the nation added a total of 150,000 jobs in April, which would be well ahead of March's estimated increase of 88,000 jobs. Then, 90 minutes later, the Institute for Supply management reported that its survey on manufacturing activity across the country had slowed its tepid advance further in April.

Then, there was the continued flow of corporate earnings reports. Yesterday, for example, drug making behemoth Merck (MRK - Free Merck Stock Report) issued a less-than-welcoming first-quarter earnings report, and that Dow-30 component saw its shares drop modestly, in response, taking several of the pharmaceuticals issues down with it. There also was some additional weakness in the cyclical basic materials group.  

Now, this morning, we have had a pair of economic reports released in the past half hour. Of note, the Labor Department reported that first-time jobless claims fell to 324,000 in the latest seven-day stretch. That was a lower number than forecast, and thus a supportive metric. Also, the nation's trade imbalance fell, with the gap narrowing to $38.8 billion in March from an upwardly revised $43.6 billion in February. The decline in imports into this country, while supportive to GDP growth, could also be a sign that the public over here is in less of a spending mood. And that would not be a positive development.

Also, of note, earlier today, the European Central Bank lowered its key lending rate to 0.5%, in a move designed to stimulate a flagging economy on the Continent. That move, coupled with the better jobless claims data, and the shrinking trade gap, which as noted, we consider a mixed blessing, are combining to sharply lift the equity futures at this time, suggesting that when the trading day commences over here in less than an hour from now, it will do so notably to the upside. Yesterday's profit taking, which we see as somewhat constructive, may thus turn out to be just a one-day affair. – Harvey S. Katz

At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.