Stocks Finish Higher Ahead of Jobs Report

The major indexes rise ahead of the holiday weekend amid optimism for employment growth. In deal news, Kirk Kerkorian plans to bid for Chrysler

Stocks finished higher Thursday amid optimism about Friday's employment report and Kirk Kerkorian's planned $4.5 billion offer for DaimlerChrysler's (DCX) Chrysler unit, says S&P. The stock markets are closed tomorrow for Good Friday, but government offices open and bond market will operate until 10:30 am EDT to respond to the jobs report. The bond market will be watching labor costs for inflation signs, notes S&P.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 30.15 points, or 0.24%, to 12,560.20. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index edged up 4.39 points, or 0.3%, to 1,443.76. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite gained 12.65 points, or 0.51%, to 2,471.34.

In breaking news Thursday, billionaire Kirk Kerkorian is prepared to offer $4.5 billion for DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler unit, according to the Wall Street Journal's Web site. DaimlerChrysler shares jumped on the news.

In other deal news, Biosite (BSTE) got a letter from Inverness Medical Innovations (IMA) that says Inverness is prepared to offer to acquire all of Biosite, other than the 4.9% it already owns, for $90 per share cash. On Mar. 25, Biosite received a $85 per share offer from Beckman Coulter (BEC).

WebMethods (WEBM) agreed to be acquired by Software AG in a cash tender offer for $9.15 per share, or about $546 million.

In earnings news, Micron Technology (MU) posted a 7 cents second-quarter loss per share, vs. 27 cents EPS a year ago, as higher operating costs and significant declines in average selling prices offset a 16% sales rise. But the chip maker said prices for DRAM chips had stabilized. Goldman reportedly downgraded the stock to sell from neutral.

Constellation Brands (STZ) posted fourth-quarter EPS of 39 cents, vs. 24 cents, on a 9% sales rise. The company sees $1.30-$1.40 fiscal year 2008 EPS on low single-digit growth in organic net sales.

A few companies issued earnings warnings for the March quarter, such as Norfolk Southern (NSC) and Radware (RDWR).

In the energy markets, May futures for West Texas Intermediate crude oil fell 13 cents to around $64.25 per barrel. Traders are watching gasoline futures for direction, says Action Economics. Refinery outages, which were partially responsible for the large inventory draw reported on Wednesday, resulted in sharply higher prices, and further gains today could support crude prices as well, says Action Economics.

On the economic news front, initial jobless claims rose 11,000 to 321,000 in the week ended Mar. 1, from an upwardly revised 310,000.

European stock markets were higher Thursday. In London, the FTSE 100 index rose 16.6 points, or 0.26%, to 6381.3, after the Bank of England kept interest rates unchanged. France's CAC 40 index was up 6.08 points, or 0.11%, to 5745.09. In Frankfurt, the DAX index gained 17.44 points, or 0.25%, to 7091.35.

Major Asian indexes finished mixed Thursday. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index fell 52.67 points, or 0.3%, to 17,491.42. China's benchmark Shanghai Composite Index rose to another record, to 3319.14. Hong Kong's market was closed for a holiday.

Treasury Market

Treasury yields rose following the jobless claims rise that came in above median forecasts and failed to leave any lasting impression on the bond market ahead of Friday's payrolls report, says Action Economics. Estimates for payrolls are on the subdued side already at 128,000. The 10-year note yield edged up to 4.674%.

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