Markets & Finance

Stocks Finish Higher


Stocks finished higher Thursday as traders took in another day's set of strong earnings reports, contributing to a generally healthy second-quarter earnings season. The Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed to a four-year high, with the Nasdaq up at a year-to-date high. Oil prices also rose, but did not impede the upward trend for the market.

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 68.46 points, or 0.64%, to 10,705.55. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 6.93 points, or 0.56%, to 1,243.72. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite gained 12.22 points, or 0.56%, to 2,198.44.

Crude oil prices settled up 83 cents a barrel at $59.94, after momentarily touching above the $60 mark. The rise appeared to be linked to higher gasoline prices.

The most closely-watched economic news of the week will be Friday's advance gross domestic product (GDP) figure for the second quarter. The GDP is expected to rise 3.2%, with a 2.5% in the chain price index, marking a slowdown from the past two quarters, which have seen 3.8% gains in each.

In economic news Thursday, U.S. jobless claims rose by 5,000 to 310,000 last week, up from a revised 305,000 the week before, and in line with economist forecasts. This appears to show that the planned layoffs in the auto industry are occurring slowly, according to Action Economics. The 4-week moving average remained stable at roughly 318,250.

In deal news, General Electric's (GE) Universal Studios unit has held exploratry talks to acquire the DreamWorks SKG studio for as much as $1 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In earnings news, Daimler Chrysler (DCX) saw earnings of 88 cents a share, vs. 69 cents during the same period a year ago, on a 3.6% rise in revenue. The company said it expected to see higher revenues in the 2005 than 2004, but operating profit may be impacted by increasing raw material costs, and a less favorable exchange rate between the dollar and the euro.

Alcatel (ALA) reported earnings of 17 cents, vs. 8 cents during last year's second quarter, on a 8.5% rise in revenue. The telecom equipment supplier raised its revenue forecast to a 5% to 8% increase in 2005.

Starbucks (SBUX) also announced earnings. The coffee chain saw a 21% increase in consolidated revenue, with earnings of 31 cents a share, vs. 24 cents last year in the company's third quarter. The company said it expects earnings to rise to between 29 and 30 cents a share in the fourth quarter.

Exxon Mobil (XOM) posted $1.23 in earnings per share, vs. 88 cents a share in the second quarter last year, on 25% higher revenue.

Aetna (AET) reiterated its forecast for its full year earnings. In the second-quarter, net income was $1.35 a share, vs. 90 cents a year ago. This number includes net realized capital gains, and other one-time items. The healthcare company also added that medical membership increased 60,000 in the quarter.

b>Treasury Market

Treasury yields headed lower as higher rates attracted buyers ahead of Friday's earnings reports. Month-end demand could be giving prices an added lift, according to Action Economics, since recent economic news has not been very daunting. The 10-year note yield traded at 4.19%.

World Markets

European stock markets finished modestly higher Thursday. London's FTSE 100 index closed up 6.7 points, or 0.13%, to 5,270.3.

Germany's DAX index gained 37.15 points, or 0.77%, to 4,892.50.

In Paris, the CAC 40 index rose 29.13 points, or 0.66%, to 4,462.26.

Asian markets finished higher Thursday. In Japan, the Nikkei index closed up 23.23 points, or 0.20%, at 11,858.31.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index gained 11.46 points, or 0.08%, moving to 14,813.32.


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