Markets & Finance

Stocks Finish at Session Highs


Stocks Thursday finished at sesson highs amid a boost in guidance from Nokia (NOK) and strong holiday sales results from some retailers.

The Dow Jones industrial average added 63.41 points, or 0.60%, at 10,592.44. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index added 5.59 points, or 0.50%, to 1,131.91. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index added 22.57 points, or 1.09%, to 2,100.25.

The first Dow member to report fourth-quarter earnings, Alcoa (AA), handily beat analysts' expectations of 34 cents earnings per share. After the close oftrading Thursday, Alcoa reported EPS of 39 cents, more than double the 16 cents the aluminum company reported in the same period a year ago.

In economic data Thursday, the latest update on on initial jobless claims showed a rise of 14,000 claims to 353,000 in the week ended Jan. 3. The data were in line with expectations.

The long-awaited December employment report is due Friday morning. The unemployment rate of 5.9% is not expected to budge, but economists are looking for some better growth in new jogs. "Though weekly state unemployment claims climbed by more than expected last week, the prognosis for jobs growth remains optimistic," say economists at Moody's Investors Service. The group expects monthly job growth over the next several months.

Other companies reporting earnings after Thursday's close include Infosys Technologies (INFY) and WD-40 Company (WDFC).

Burlington Coat Factory (BCF) and Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea (GAP) are reporting earnings Friday.

On Thursday, technology shares got a boost from cellphone maker Nokia. The Finnish company said sales and profitability in the fourth quarter would beat previous guidance on strong demand for its phones and networks.

Earnings from Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM) offered another positive signal for tech investors. The chipmaker said December revenues jumped 67% from the same month last year. Sales for the full year rose 25%.

Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) rose Thursday after the company unveiled a competing product to Apple Computer's (APPL) successful iPod.

Retailers like Wal-Mart (WMT), Target (TGT) and JC Penney (JCP) were in the spotlight as their December sales were better than expected.

Wal-Mart, also Dow member, reported a 4.3% increase in December same-store sales, but warned earnings for the fourth quarter would likely reach only the low end of expectations.

High-end department store Nordtstrom (JWN) reported same-store sales of 9.1% while value-oriented department store Kohl's (KSS) reported a 1.2% drop in its December same-store sales.

In other company news, Lockheed Martin (LMT) won an eight-year contract worth up to $768 million to develop a system to knock out multiple ballistic missile warheads and decoys with a single launch, the Pentagon said.

Treasury Market

U.S. Treasuries Thursday finished flat as investors looked toward the December payrolls report Friday. A better employment climate could lead the Fed to raise interest rates later this year.

In other economic data Thursday, wholesale inventories gained 0.5% in November, suggesting businesses are becoming more optimistic about the economy's prospects. The rise was above economists' expectations for a 0.3% increase.

World Markets

European stocks finished higher. London's Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index added 21.20 points, or 0.47%, at 4,494.20, amid strength in telecoms, and optimism for a robust quarterly earnings season in the U.S. The Bank of England's decision not to raise U.K. interest rates has little market impact.

In Paris, the CAC 40 rose 29.22 points, or 0.82%, at 3,592.73. Germany's DAX index gained 41.03 points, or 1.02%, to 4,045.43.

In Asia, stocks finished higher. Japan's Nikkei 225 index gained 79.83 points, or 0.74%, to 10,837.65, after two sessions of losses. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index added 45.91 points, or 0.35%, to close at 13,203.59.


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