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Stocks Finish Higher

Stocks finished higher Thursday as bond yields and oil prices fell. Google (GOOG) closed above $400 for the first time, and helped boost other Internet stocks.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 45.46 points to 10,720.22. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 11.59 points to 1,242.8. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index jumped 32.53 points to 2,220.46.

December crude oil futures rose fell $1.55 to $56.33 a barrel. Early in the session, traders had reported forecasts for colder U.S. weather providing support, but sellers were apparently thick over the $58 mark, resulting in a sharp turnaround, says Action Economics.

Friday's economic calendar is bare.

In economic news Thursday, housing starts fell 5.6% to a 2.014 million pace in October, from an upwardly revised 2.134 million rate in September. Building permits fell 6.7% to 2.071 million. Housing completions were flat at a 1.964 million. Despite the larger than expected decline in starts, the pace remains very healthy, says Action Economicws.

U.S. jobless claims fell 25,000 to 303,000 in the week ended Nov. 12, from a revised 328,000 the prior week (326,000 previously). The data are virtually free of storm distortions and reflect a healthly labor market, says Action Economics.

October industrial production rebounded 0.9% in October, after plunging 1.5% in September, as some of the effects from the hurricanes and Boeing strike were unwound. Capacity utilization rose to 79.5% from 78.9%.

The headline November Philly Fed index slid to 11.5 in November, well below the median forecast, but the labor index rose.

Among stocks on the move, General Motors (GM) rebounded from early weakness amid reports that the company is negotiating with Delphi and the United Auto Workers union. A strike is seen as damaging for GM, which is Delphi's main customer. Meanwhile, there are concerns about its business model and pension liabilities after the Senate approved a pension reform bill that could force sub-investment grade companies to fully fund their pensions, reports Action Economics.

Altria Group (MO) shares fell after Goldman Sachs downgraded the U.S. tobacco group to neutral from attractive, which is mainly driven by a downgrade of Altria to in-line from outperform.

Gold stocks moved up as the yellow metal hit 18-year highs on speculative buying. The World Gold Council reports that the third quarter represented the seventh straight quarter of positive growth in demand for gold and a 56% rise in investment demand.

Railroad stocks also rose, attracting investors after Merrill Lynch upgraded its rating on Union Pacific (UNP) to buy from neutral.

In earnings news, Applied Materials (AMAT) posted fourth-quarter earnings per share of 15 cents, vs. 27 cents a year ago, on a 22% revenue decline. The chip equipment maker sees 14-15 cents first-quarter EPS. S&P maintained a buy opinion, and lowered fiscal year 2006 EPS estimate due to inclusion of stock option expense. The stock fell.

On the bright side, Network Appliance (NTAP) shares rose after the company posted 18 cents for second-quarter EPS, vs. 15 cents (GAAP), on 29% higher revenue. It sees 17-18 cents third-quarter EPS (GAAP) on 25%-28% revenue growth. It sets $650-million stock buyback.

Intuit (INTU) posted a first-quarter loss of 26 cents per share, vs. 25 cents loss (non-GAAP), as fewer shares offset a 20% revenue rise. It raised its fiscal year 2006 guidance to $2.23-$2.31 EPS on revenue of $2.20-$2.26 billion. The company also set a $500-million stock buyback.

Walt Disney (DIS) and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) will report earnings after the market close.

Treasury Market

Treasury yields fell after the latest batch of economic data. "The market has become increasingly nervous over various factors, which have provided a bid in bonds, including bird flu, GM, the slippage in housing, and some thoughts Bernanke may move the Fed to the sidelines after Greenspan departs," says Action Economics. The benchmark 10-year note yield fell to 4.46%.

World Markets

European stock markets finished higher on Thursday. London's Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index was up 30 points to 5,460.

Germany's DAX index gained 18.26 points to 5,099.72. In Paris, the CAC 40 index rose 11.05 points to 4,523.7.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index jumped 240.92 points, or 1.7%, to 14,411.79 -- the highest close in four years. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index rose 137.44 poitns, or 0.94%, to 14,787.98.

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