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Stocks Turn Flat in Bumpy Session; Crude Settles Above $51

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Stocks recovered from heavy losses suffered earlier Thursday, though they were hovering around the flatline with little to move them higher. 

Equities have been unpredictable since an unexpected slide in durable goods orders on Wednesday provided investors with another sign the U.S. economy could be on weaker footing.

The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average were flat. The Nasdaq was down 0.08%. 

Must Read: Warren Buffett's Top 10 Dividend-Paying Stocks for 2015

"This year we're going to see more volatility than we've seen in the last three or four years," said Luis Gonzalez, managing director of Snowden Lane Partners, on a call. "You're going to see some big swings through the course of the year."

Geopolitical pressure in Yemen contributed to stock market jitters, but helped to push crude prices higher. West Texas Intermediate surged 4.3% to $51.30 a barrel on news Saudi Arabia and Gulf allies bombed Yemeni militias as the country faces civil war.

The possible blocking of the Bab el-Mandab Strait was seen as a potential disruption to crude production and transport in the region, alleviating pressure on global oversupply. However, one analyst sees this as an unlikely result.

"We should note that blocking the strait would likely only extend the transit time as tankers are routed around Africa, as opposed to choking off supply," said Citi's commodity analyst Timothy Evans. "The base case scenario by a comfortable margin will be ongoing production with the market calming over time as it becomes clear that the conflict will be contained within Yemen's borders."

Markets have been shaky this week as investors perceive the Federal Reserve is determined to begin to normalize monetary policy sooner than later, regardless of poor economic data that points to a U.S. slowdown.

"The data looks poor and durable goods strikes as a deeper theme than just weather and strikes," said CRT Capital's David Ader. "We 'get' the Fed wants to hike at least once, but between that and earnings we're wary of stocks."

St. Louis Fed President James Bullard struck a hawkwish tone on Thursday. "Now may be a good time to begin normalizing U.S. monetary policy so that it is set appropriately for an impoving economy over the next two years," he said, addressing an audience in Frankfurt, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart was only slightly more dovish, recognizing that the first quarter looked "very soft." Speaking with CNBC, Lockhart said he expected a rate hike midyear or later as a harsh winter and the effect of lower oil prices appeared "transitory."

Weekly jobless claims in the U.S. continued their trend downward, falling 9,000 to 282,000 over the week ended March 21. Economists had expected 293,000 first-time filings for unemployment benefits.

Red Hat (RHT - Get Report) shares spiked 10.1% after the company reported quarterly profit of 43 cents a share, 2 cents higher than analysts' estimates. The company said it is seeing increased demand for its cloud products.

SanDisk (SNDK) tanked 18.8% after lowering its first-quarter revenue guidance, citing weak demand as reason to slash prices. The company expects sales over its March-ending quarter of $1.3 billion, down from $1.45 billion previously.

Lululemon (LULU - Get Report) added 6.4% after beating earnings estimates by 5 cents in its most recent quarter. However, guidance was lowered with the leisurewear retailer expecting earnings of 31 cents to 33 cents a share over its next quarter, below estimates of 39 cents.

Schlumberger (SLB) was on watch after agreeing to pay $232.8 million for violating U.S. sanctions in Iran and Sudan, ending a 6-year investigation into the company's involvement in the two countries. The oil company had previously had outfields in both countries.

Comcast (CMCSA) was slightly lower after pushing back the closing date of its $45 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable (TWC). The Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department are still reviewing the deal, which Comcast believes will conclude midyear.

Must Read: 10 Stocks Carl Icahn Loves for 2015: Apple, eBay, Hertz and More

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