Friday, August 3, 2007

Stocks Rise Cautiously After Earnings

Stocks were mostly higher Thursday after Wall Street received some solid readings on corporate earnings and the job market, but remained nervous that a tighter credit market could impede U.S. growth.
Investors were relieved that profits at companies such as Nokia Corp. came in better than expected, and after the Labor Department said jobless claims rose last week by a slightly smaller number than economists predicted. The report - which comes before Friday's highly anticipated July employment report - was a promising sign that the job market is holding up.
"Something that has kept consumers spending is that unemployment is very low," said Janna Sampson, director of portfolio management at Oakbrook Investments. "Even if they're being pinched a little bit by oil prices or the inability to borrow, people will spend if they have a job. If we see employment weakening, that's really, really negative."
But with the market jumpy about rising mortgage defaults leading to losses and tougher lending standards, it was impossible to predict what turn trading might take. In the latest indication that the lending climate is deteriorating, Accredited Home Lenders Holding Co., a nonbank mortgage lender, said in a filing Thursday its business is in jeopardy, and its stock plummeted 41 percent.
In late afternoon trading, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 22.52, or 0.17 percent, to 13,384.89.
Broader stock indicators also gained. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3.82, or 0.26 percent, to 1,461.99, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 8.33, or 0.33 percent, to 2,562.20.
Bonds were little changed, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note at 4.79 percent, the same as late Wednesday.
The blue chip index, now about 4.3 percent below the record close it reached in early July, has seen triple-digit swings become the norm in recent weeks.
Part of the reason behind the market's volatility is that the Dow rose to the 14,000 mark so quickly, said Jack A. Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank. He has predicted the Dow will end the year at 14,000. "From that perspective, the market got a little ahead of itself," he said.
He added, though, that late-day surges - like the Dow's 150-point rally on Wednesday - are heartening. "Movements in the last half-hour are generally smarter money. It's usually program trading, institutional buying or selling," Ablin said.
The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, after the European Central Bank and the Bank of England kept their key interest rates steady Thursday. More rate boosts overseas could further injure the dollar, which is trading near multi-year lows against the euro and the British pound.
In other economic data, U.S. factories saw demand for their goods rise in June by 0.6 percent, up from a 0.5 percent drop in May but lower than expected.
Several major earnings reports came in strong Thursday.
Nokia, the biggest cell phone maker in the world, said its second-quarter profit more than doubled on strong sales. U.S. shares of the Finnish company soared $2.28, or 8.1 percent, to $30.70.
Profits at Lear Corp., Eastman Kodak Co. and CVS Caremark Corp. also surpassed Street estimates and saw their shares rise.
Meanwhile, another takeover deal lifted the market's spirits - at least for the time being. Fiserv Inc. said it agreed to buy CheckFree Corp. in an all-cash deal worth about $4.4 billion, driving up CheckFree's shares $8.67, or 23.5 percent, to $45.40.
But not all company news was positive Thursday: Nortel Networks Corp. and Gateway Inc. tumbled after reporting quarterly results that disappointed investors. Also, Getty Images Inc. and Clorox Co. plunged after releasing worse-than-expected projections for later in the year.
Crude oil futures rose 33 cents to $76.86 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude is still trading below Tuesday's record close of $78.21.
Gold prices rose.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 5 to 3 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.15 billion shares.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 3.68, or 0.47 percent, to 781.60.
In Asian trading, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.67 percent, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index dipped 0.05 percent, and China's Shanghai Composite Index rose 2.5 percent.
In European trading, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.65 percent, Germany's DAX index rose 0.83 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 0.17 percent.