Stocks Finish Higher

An end-of-session rally propelled the major indexes after flat trading for most of the session

Stocks finished higher Thursday, after a rally into the end of the session. The day's news included a decline in durable goods orders, and an as-expected report on first-time jobless claims. The late-day gains could have been a sign of bargain hunting as stocks steadily climb back after the sharp losses on Tuesday, says Standard & Poor's MarketScope.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 74.12 points, or 0.69%, to 10,748.72. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index went up 9.39 points, or 0.79%, to 1,200.19. The Nasdaq composite index gained 20.45 points, or 1.01%, moving to 2,051.70.

Crude oil futures were up 22 cents Thursday, to $51.39 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Earlier in the day the Saudi Arabian oil minister said in an interview that he sees oil in the $40-$50 range.

January's durable goods orders were down 0.9%. A 0.1% increase was expected, after a 1.1% rise in December. Despite the lower headline figure, the report belied widespread strength in many of the components, says Action Economics.

Initial jobless claims for the week ended Feb. 19 rose by 9,000, in line with market expectations.

On Friday, the preliminary reading of fourth-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) is forecast to rise 3.5%, up from the original estimate of 3.1%.

In corporate news, Krispy Kreme Donuts (KKD ) said that the U.S. Attorney's Office is seeking to conduct interviews with current and former officers and employees. The company says it believes the requests relate to matters already under investigation by the SEC, although press reports have stated that this could concern a new probe into the donut-maker's accounting practices.

Google (GOOG ) fell after RBC Capital downgraded the stock from top pick to sector perform, along with a downgrade of Yahoo (YHOO ) as well. Standard & Poor's reiterated its positive outlook on the Internet software industry as a whole.

After the close Wednesday, Cablevision (CVC ) posted a fourth-quarter loss of $1.06, despite an 11% revenue rise.

Staples (SPLS ) reported fourth-quarter earnings of 50 cents, vs. 42 cents last year. The office supplies retailer was in line with analyst estimates, and raised its 2006 guidance.

Entertainment conglomerate Viacom (VIA ) saw a 5.9% revenue rise, but posted a fourth-quarter loss of $10.99 per share vs. 22 cents in earnings last year. The huge loss was due to $18 billion in charges for writing down the value of its radio and outdoor advertising business.

Clothing retailer Limited Brands (LTD ) reported earnings of 95 cents per share in the fourth quarter, vs. 74 cents last year. Same-store sales were 2% higher, and the company beat Wall Street's estimates.

Up ahead, apparel retailer Gap (GPS ) will make its earnings announcement after the close of trading Thursday. Friday brings an earnings call by broadcaster Clear Channel Communications (CCU ).

Treasury Market

Treasury yields reached session highs, as traders positioned themselves for a potentially large upward revision to the U.S. fourth-quarter GDP. The market also has an eye on an upside risk to February's nonfarm payroll numbers, says Action Economics. The yield on the 10-year note traded at 4.29%.

World Markets

European stock markets finished lower Thursday. In London, the Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 was down 16.40 points, or 0.33%, to 4,972.10.

Germany's DAX index fell 6.37 points, or 0.15%, to 4,304.29.

In Paris, the CAC 40 index fell 0.48 points, or 0.01%, to 3,977.67.

Asian markets closed lower Thursday. Japan's Nikkei-225 index rose 30.97 points, or 0.27%, to close at 11,531.15. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index rose 102.97 points, or 0.74%, to 14,060.91.

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