The major equity benchmarks spent time below breakeven early in the day, mimicking Wednesday's choppy trading. But several well-received economic reports helped the bulls regain their footing, escalating stocks to another round of multi-year highs. To kick things off, the Labor Department said first-time jobless claims fell last week by a larger-than-projected 14,000 to 351,000 -- the lowest level in four years -- while the modest increase in the producer price index (PPI) arrived right in line with expectations. Manufacturing data from the Fed outposts in both New York and Philadelphia also exceeded economists' expectations, bolstering the positive attitude on the Street. Against this backdrop, the S&P 500 Index (SPX) broke above the 1,400 level for the first time since 2008. However, crude oil and energy stocks took an intraday hit, as Reuters reported that the U.K. and U.S. were in talks to release strategic oil stockpiles in an effort to combat rising fuel costs.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA – 13,252.76) tackled the 13,200 level today, and finished with its best close since December 2007, jumping 58.7 points, or 0.4%. Of the Dow's 30 components, 22 closed with gains, as Bank of America (BAC) once again paced the winning majority with a 4.5% increase. Meanwhile, Cisco Systems (CSCO) dropped 1.4% to lead the eight losing issues. In the last minutes of trading, the DJIA tagged a new four-year high of 13,253.51.
The S&P 500 Index (SPX – 1,402.60) turned in the best performance of its fellow benchmarks, tackling the 1,400 level along the way. The SPX peaked near a four-year high at 1,402.63, adding 8.3 points, or 0.6%, by the close. Lastly, the Nasdaq Composite (COMP – 3,056.37) edged up 15.6 points, or 0.5%. Right around midday, the tech-rich COMP touched 3,059.81 -- its loftiest mark since November 2000.
Turning to equities in focus, Guess (GES) gapped lower after the retailer provided a dismal forecast ... Veeco Instruments (VECO) received a bullish brokerage note on expectations for healthy demand ... Shareholders picked up put protection on AMC Networks (AMCX) ahead of earnings ... Northern Trust (NTRS) pushed higher after announcing a dividend hike and a stock buyback ... Strong sales of The Hunger Games helped narrow Scholastic's (SCHL) third-quarter loss ... Argus served P.F. Chang's (PFCB) a bullish brokerage note ... Regional banks Comerica (CMA), BB&T (BBT), and Huntington (HBAN) emerged as potential contrarian plays ... and today's Quote of the Day comes from Jack Abramoff. The former Republican lobbyist-turned-inmate had some wistful words of wisdom for Rod Blagojevich, as the impeached ex-governor of Illinois begins his 14-year stint in Colorado's Englewood Federal Prison. As Abramoff told CNN:
"He will be the celebrity of the prison. I think that [former Enron executive] Jeff Skilling, who is there, is probably happy that he is arriving because being the celebrity in prison, take it from me, is not fun."
But these weren't the only headlines hitting the Street today. Click on the links below for our blog coverage of:
And, in case you missed it, Schaeffer's contributor Adam Warner examined a day-by-day breakdown of the VIX. Click here to read his latest installment of Outside the Box.
For today's activity in crude oil, gold futures, options, and more, turn to page 2.
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