Markets & Finance

Stocks Barely Budge


The S&P 500 finished Thursday's session right where it started. Better than expected economic data vied with crude oil's latest run at $100

Stocks ended Thursday almost exactly where they had started, even as good economic data lifted investor sentiment early in the day and oil again flirted with the $100 per barrel mark.

The broad S&P 500 index, in fact, finished the trading session completely unchanged at 1,447.16, a rare event.

On Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average edged up 12.76 points, or 0.1%, to 13,056.72, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index fell 6.95 points, or 0.27%, to 2,602.68. For every 17 stocks moving higher on the New York Stock Exchange, 15 fell in price. On the Nasdaq, it was a negative ratio of 19 to 11.

On Wednesday, for the first time oil hit the psychologically important price of $100 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, then retreated. On Thursday, oil repeated the feat and actually moved slightly above $100, but quickly fell again. February NYMEX crude oil ended the day down 49 cents to $99.13 per barrel.

The price of oil was volatile after inventory data was released Thursday morning. The Energy Information Administration data showed crude stocks fell 4 million barrels.

U.S. initial jobless claims fell 21,000 to 336,000 in the week ended Dec. 29, but the previous week's number was revised upward from 349,000 to 357,000. The volatile measure's four-week average fell by 750. Also Thursday, ADP issued a report saying private payrolls rose 40,000 in December, from 173,000 in November.

With many worrying about the direction of the economy, the numbers were better than expected, Action Economics says. But the real focus will be on Friday's December employment report.

U.S. factory order jumped 1.5% in November, following a 0.7% increase in October. Durable goods orders were revised lower, to negative 0.1% from a positive 0.1%, but nondurable orders rose 3%. "Higher oil prices were behind the upside surprise," wrote Aaron Smith of Moody's Economy.com.

Among the stocks in the news on Thursday, State Street Corp. (STT) said it will take a $279 million charge in the fourth quarter, amounting to 71 cents per share, to deal with legal and other costs associated with bad credit investments at its State Street Global Advisors unit. The firm fired the head of the unit, William Hunt.

In 2007, Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) sold more cars and trucks in the U.S. than Ford (F), which had been the country's largest automaker for 75 years. Toyota sold 48,226 more vehicles than Ford according to new sales figures. Toyota's sales were up 3%, while Ford's fell 12%.

Monsanto Company (MON) reported better-than-expected earnings of 46 cents per share in its first quarter, from 16 cents a year ago. Revenue jumped 36%.

ConocoPhillips (COP) said oil production in the fourth quarter is expected to be 60,000 barrels-of-oil-equivalent higher than the previous quarter. Fourth quarter results will also be helped by a $350 million tax benefit in Canada and other factors, the firm said.

Walgreen (WAG) saw 2.6% higher same-store sales in December, while total sales rose 7.8%.

CVS Caremark (CVS) said December sales were lighter than expected to due to a number of factors, including bad weather and a slow flu season.

Overstock.com (OSTK) says its president and chief operating officer Jason Lindsey resigned effective Dec. 31 and will now oversee special projects part-time.

E*Trade Financial (ETFC) announced Mitchell Caplan, its former CEO who resigned in November, has also resigned from its board of directors. He was granted $10.9 million and two years of insurance coverage.

A small stake in Marsh & McLennan Companies (MMC) has reportedly been purchased by activist investor Nelson Peltz. According to the Wall Street Journal, Peltz's Trian Partners has taken a stake of less than 5% in the insurance broker.

Superior Energy Services (SPN) announced its subsidiary Wild Well Control has won contracts of $750 million to decommission oil platforms and other work.

Solarfun Power Holdings (SOLF) announced $230 million in contracts with a major Korean conglomerate.

The European indexes were mostly lower Thursday. In London, the FTSE 100 index was up 0.98% to 6,479.40. But Paris' CAC 40 index fell 0.08% to 5,546.08, and Germany's DAX index lost 0.51% to 7,908.41.

Most stock indexes fell in Asia, with Hong Kong's Hang Seng index off 2.44% to 26,887.28 and mainland China's Shanghai Composite up 0.89% to 5,319.86. Japan's stock market was closed.

Treasury market

Treasuries were mixed on Thursday. The ten-year note rose 05/32 to 102-00/32 for a yield of 3.88%, and the 30-year bond eased 02/32 to 110-20/32 for a yield of 4.35%.

Steverman is a reporter for BusinessWeek's Investing channel.

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