Wall Street fluctuates in morning trading

March 19, 2009 7:59:09 AM PDT
Wall Street fluctuated Thursday after a report showed new unemployment claims dropped last week but that the number of people receiving jobless benefits rose again. [CHECK THE MARKETS: Get the latest numbers from Wall Street]
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The major indexes rose in the opening moments of trading as the new data showed the economy remains weak, then bobbled between positive and negative territory.

"Today's market is likely to drift not meaningfully one way or another," Thorne said because of the mixed message coming from the unemployment report.

The Labor Department said the number of initial requests for unemployment insurance dropped to a seasonally adjusted 646,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 658,000, better than economists' expectations.

However, the number of people continuing to receive beneits set a new record for the eighth straight week, jumping 185,000 to a seasonally adjusted 5.47 million.

In morning trading, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 10.76, or 0.14 percent, to 7,475.82. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.84, or 0.11 percent, to 795.19, while Nasdaq composite index rose 3.65, or 0.24 percent, to 1,494.87.

The Russell 2000 index that tracks small company stocks fell 0.50, or 0.12 percent, to 417.13.

Advancing stocks were ahead of losers by 5 to 3 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 530.4 million shares.

The market has rallied six of the past seven days. Investors extended the advance Wednesday after the Federal Reserve said it would pump more than $1 trillion into the economy, including the purchase of long-term Treasury bonds.

Thorne said the Fed's moves show that the government is willing to take actions and make investments to help restore confidence in the financial system.

"The biggest piece we're missing is the general confidence," he said. Wednesday's Fed announcement is a move toward helping calm investors and consumers worries about whether the economy will begin to improve, he added.

The rally began after Citigroup Inc. reported it had been profitable the first two months of the year, and financial stocks have been helping to lead the market higher. Banks were mixed Thursday; Citigroup rose 26 cents, or 8.44 percent, to $3.34, continuing a comeback after earlier this month falling below $1 for the first time. JPMorgan Chase & Co. fell $1.11, or 4.09 percent, to $26.

Meanwhile, bond prices mostly fell, a day after steep gains following the Fed news. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 2.53 percent from 2.50 percent late Wednesday. The yield on the three-month T-bill, considered one of the safest investments, rose to 0.21 percent, from 0.20 percent late Wednesday.

The dollar fell against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

Oil prices rose $2.46 to $50.60 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 0.3 percent. In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE 100 was rose 2.3 percent, Germany's DAX index gained 2.7 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 1.1 percent.

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