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Stocks Finish Higher on Jobs, Greece, Possible Fed Aid


NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Stocks finished higher Wednesday following yesterday's worst plunge of the year, on the back of better-than-expected jobs data, news that the Fed may yet aid the economy and progress on Greece's debt restructuring.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 78.3 points, or 0.6%, at 12,837. The S&P 500 was up 9.3 points, or 0.7%, at 1353. The CBOE Volatility Index was down 6.6% at 19.49 after surging 16% in the previous session. Consumer cyclical stocks, financials and technology were among the biggest gainers in Wednesday's session. Utilities and non-cyclical consumer stocks have been the day's laggards.

The Nasdaq added 25.4 points, or 0.9%, at 2,936. Apple (AAPL) shares finished a touch higher, up 0.1%, after the company unveiled its new iPad. The latest model, which will be available March 16, will have a retina display, voice recording ability and an upgraded camera, among other features.

The first of a spate of U.S. job reports turned out better-than-expected Wednesday, with Automatic Data Processing reporting that private-sector jobs rose 216,000 in February, beating the expectation from analysts for a gain of 200,000 jobs, according to a Thomson Reuters poll. January's number meanwhile was upwardly revised to an addition of 173,000 jobs. The report is a precursor to the highly anticipated nonfarm payrolls report on Friday.

The "ADP is telling us today that 200,000 should be expected on Friday, a rate of job growth sufficient to keep gross domestic product growing 2% to 2.5% and enough to keep more accommodation from the Fed a hope more than a reality," noted Eric Green, chief market economist at TD Securities.

In other U.S. economic news, the Labor Department said that nonfarm productivity was revised up to a 0.9% increase from the prior estimate of 0.7%.

U.S. stocks saw their biggest one-day drop in nearly three months on Tuesday as the markets digested more evidence that Europe is sliding deeper into the doldrums and dragging down the pace of global growth.

Buying momentum picked up after a Wall Street Journal article said that the Federal Reserve is contemplating a new type of bond-buying program designed to reduce worries about future inflation. The report came as a surprise after speech by Ben Bernanke last week triggered bearish sentiment that another round of monetary stimulus was still coming this year.

In Europe, Greece seems to be moving forward on its debt swap deal, which must be completed by Thursday. The country's six largest banks have agreed to take part in the country's debt swap, according to the Finance Ministry. The banks are among the biggest private holders of Greece's sovereign debt, according to Bloomberg, and are integral to the completion of the bond swap. Their participation is expected to encourage smaller bondholders to take write-downs on their holdings as well.

London's FTSE finished 0.44% higher, and Germany's DAX closed up 0.57%. In Asia, benchmark indices fell after Australia's fourth-quarter gross domestic product was reported to have grown at a disappointing 0.4%. Japan's Nikkei Average closed behind by 0.64%, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index finished lower by 0.86%.


In corporate news, Pandora Media (P), the streaming music company, reported a wider-than-expected fourth-quarter loss. It was the company's first quarterly loss since it went public in June 2011. Pandora reported a non-GAAP loss of $4.7 million, or 3 cents a share, on revenue of $81.3 million. Analysts were expecting a loss of 2 cents a share on revenue of $83.1 million in the three months ended Jan. 31. Pandora's outlook for the fiscal year -- a non-GAAP loss of 11 to 16 cents a share -- was wider than analysts' views. Shares plunged 23.9% to $10.86.

General Electric (GE) reiterated its 2012 guidance, saying that it continues to expect double digit growth. The company is forecasting 20% to 25% growth in regions including Latin America, Australia and New Zealand, the Middle East and Africa. Growth in Asia, including China and India, is expected at 10% to 15%. The company also plans to collaborate with the second biggest U.S. natural gas producer, Chesapeake Energy, to develop products and services for cars and trucks with domestically-produced natural gas. Shares were 1.9% higher to $18.77.

Children's Place Retail Stores (PLCE) saw its fiscal fourth quarter earnings fall 25%. The retailer reported profit of $24.2 million, or 98 cents a share, and adjusted earnings from continuing operations of 87 cents a share, as sales were lower than expected because of higher product costs, warmer weather and the rollout of new stores. For the current quarter, Children's Place forecast earnings of $1.03 to $1.08 a share, missing the estimate for $1.14 a share. Shares fell 3.5% to $50.59.

Kraft Foods (KFT), fell 1.2% to $37.83 after Jefferies cut the stock to hold from buy on worries that the company could see a slowdown in growth this year amid softer demand, higher pension contributions and costs related to its plans to split into two publicly traded companies. But by 2013 and 2014, following the split, strong performance is expected from Kraft.

April oil futures were up $1.46 to $106.16 a barrel, while April gold futures rose $11.80 to $1,683.90 an ounce alongside a stronger euro and supported by bargain hunting.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was down by 6/32, raising the yield to 1.964%, while the U.S. dollar index was flat at $79.862.

-- Written by Chao Deng and Andrea Tse in New York.



>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.

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