Stocks ended modestly higher on Thursday as investors brushed aside negative news and focused instead on upbeat corporate results including a reassuring outlook from Dell Computer (DELL), a technology bellwether
The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite index gained 5.40 points, or 0.30%, to 1,789.75. The 30-stock Dow Jones industrial average ended up 37.51 points, or 0.37%, to 10,235.80. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 Index, meanwhile, added 0.95 of a point, or 0.08%, to 1,126.35.
Wall Street on Friday will turn its attention to the March employment report -- scheduled for release at 8:30 a.m. ET -- for a reading on how well the economy is recovering from its slump. The nation's unemployment rate is expected to tick up to 5.7% from 5.5% in the previous month. And hourly earnings are expected to have risen 0.3% compared with a 0.1% increase in the previous month.
The jobs news on Thursday was not encouraging. U.S. initial jobless claims surged 64,000 to 460,000 for the week ended March 30. The jump was much higher than the 390,000 first time claims for unemployment benefits that had been expected. But the increase was reportedly tied to Federal extension filings --workers who had exhausted their 26-week benefits refiled.
More earnings releases are also due out on Friday. Aloca (AA), the world's largest aluminum company, is to report first quarter earnings. CPI (CPY), a professional portraits studio operator, is expected to release its fourth quarter results.
Stocks seesawed all session long on Thursday before ending higher as investors grappled with the ongoing crisis in the Middle East and earnings news. Pharmaceutical, Internet software and chemical stocks were notably lower, while many retailers were rebounding from losses earlier in the week on an analyst downgrade.
Market players were encouraged by Dell's announcement that it was on track to meet profit targets.
And housewares retailer Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) posted 29% higher fourth quarter profits which topped analyst consensus estimates.
Wall Street was also heartened by news that President George W. Bush would send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East to try to end the fighting between Israel and the Palestinians. There are concerns that the escalating violence could disrupt world oil supplies, a move that could hamper economic recovery.
The market had opened on a down note after a preannouncement from drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY). The company said that 2002 profits would fall dramatically due to poor sales of key drugs.
U.S. Treasuries closed lower after an initially bullish response to the spike in jobless claims. However, news that the data were impacted by the government's extension of benefits, President Bush's re-engagement in the Middle East situation, technical factors, and position squaring into Friday's payroll data eroded the gains through the afternoon.
European markets ended lower. In London, the FTSE 100 index was off 38.30 points, or 0.73%, at 5,209.50 although the UK services index rose to 53.8 in March from 52.1 in February. UK housing prices rose 0.9% in March, making some start to worry about inflation.
In Paris, the CAC 40 index was off 93.95 points, or 2.03%, at 4,538.31.
In Frankfurt, the DAX index fell 26.89 points, or 0.51%, to 5,254.95 following reports that the EuroZone PMI services indexes rose but industrial production fell, raising questions about the health of the economic recovery.
Asian markets closed with losses. In Tokyo, Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index closed off 21.51 points, or 0.19%, at 11,379.20 dragged down by Advantest, which is reportedly expected to post its second-straight consolidated operating loss in fiscal 2002.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was off 2.59 points, or 0.02%, at 10,831.37.