The broad indexes ended with slight gains, after the Labor Department said Wednesday that initial unemployment claims for the week ended Nov. 17 fell 41,000 to 410,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised figure of 451,000. The four-week moving average was 396,250, an increase of 9,500 from the previous week's average of 386,750.
Continuing unemployment claims for the week ended Nov. 10 fell 30,000 to 3.337 million from the prior week's upwardly revised level of 3.367 million. Economists, on average, were expecting continuing claims to come in at 3.345 million, according to Briefing.com.
The improved employment numbers followed the Census Bureau's report on Tuesday that housing starts increased to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 894,000 in October from a revised 863,000 in September.While the broad market and Bank of America showed strength on the continued signs of a slow but strengthening economic recovery, most large-cap bank stocks were down heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, with the KBW Bank Index (I:BKX) declining slightly to close at 48.42. Bank of America's shares have now returned 76% year-to-date, following a 58% decline during 2011. The shares trade for a 0.7 times their reported Sept. 30 tangible book value of $13.48, and for 10 times the consensus 2013 earnings estimate of 97 cents a share, among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. The consensus 2014 EPS estimate is $1.27. Bank of America and MBIA (MBIA) are battling over the bond insurer's coverage of $6 billion in mortgage backed securities packaged by Countrywide Financial, before Countrywide was acquired by Bank of America in 2008. MBIA claims that Countrywide made misrepresentations to investors when the MBS were sold. MBIA is trying to amend $329 million of its own bonds in order to prevent a possible default by its MBIA Insurance Corp. subsidiary from triggering a default for the parent company, which would force it to accelerate debt repayments. Bank of America has offered to pay face value for the MBIA bonds, which trade at a significant discount. The deadline for investors to agree to MBIA's amendment is 5PM Eastern time on Wednesday.