Updated from 1:45 p.m. EDT
Stocks in New York were rising modestly Thursday following a huge equities selloff over the prior couple of sessions, though equity measures remained under some pressure as oil prices remained at stubbornly high levels.
After an initial start higher, the
Dow Jones Industrial Average
took a midday dip to the flat line, before recently rising 30 points to 12,631. The
was adding 4 points to 1394, and the
tacked on 16 points to 2464.
The action came on the heels of a two-day tumble for stocks that robbed the Dow of roughly 430 points, with the
having been sparked by red-hot oil futures and sobering economic predictions by the
"It looks like the drop in the Dow down to around the 12,600 level was just enough to attract some buying interest," said Fred Dickson, senior vice president and market strategist with D.A. Davidson. He also pointed out that this is an options expiration week, which usually spurs abnormal volatility.
Investors seemed to find a bit of relief in oil, which was at least briefly taking a break from its nearly unremitting run-up over the past few weeks. Futures climbed past another new round number this morning,
, but later retreated to a $2.22 loss at $130.95.
Still, Marc Pado, U.S. market strategist with Cantor Fitzgerald, said that today's move constitutes a rather marginal correction following crude's surge over the past few days. "It's going to be seen in relative terms, and so down a buck or two is not going to motivate anybody to start getting involved in the markets here," he said.
"It's still all about oil," he said. "You get to these points of focus in the market, whether it's housing or the dollar or oil, and when the market gets transfixed like this, there's no getting away from it."
Dickson echoed that sentiment. "The major worry before was credit, and now it's the impact of rising oil prices on the economy," he said. "We seem to cross one wall of worry only to slam into the next one. But, all things considered, I think equity investors have been braced for the worst, and the market reaction to the spike in oil prices over the past four days has been really muted, and the market appears to be quite resilient. We're not down 1,000 points."
"The market's holding up pretty well, all things considered," Pado said. "These prices never would have been conceived of as being tolerated three months ago." He said traders are probably holding the line as much as possible while they await the expected positive upshot from the Fed's big January interest-rate cuts -- the effects of which typically take at least six months to be even minimally felt -- and the government's tax-rebate stimulus checks.
"They want to stay with the idea that the economy is going to show some signs of recovery," he said. "But no one's going to get too excited about equities for awhile."
Gold futures gave up $10.30 to $918.30 an ounce. The U.S. dollar took back some of its recent losses, adding 0.5% against the euro to $1.5698 and jumping 1.1% against the yen at 104.26.
On the economic docket, the Labor Department's jobless claims report revealed a sharp decline in the number of workers applying for unemployment benefits. Claims in the week ended May 17 totaled 365,000, down 9,000 from the prior week and 8,000 lower than expected.
But the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight delivered yet more abysmal news on the housing crisis, saying its purchase-only house-price index revealed that home prices sustained their worst quarterly drop on record in the first quarter, falling 1.7% sequentially. That compares with a fourth-quarter decline of 1.4%. Year over year, said the OFHEO, prices deflated by 3.1% -- the largest decline in the index's 17-year history.
On the corporate side, Swiss bank
priced a $15.5 billion rights issue
on the Zurich exchange, but shares were still picking up 1.8% on the
New York Stock Exchange
, meanwhile, said it would
slash overall production
for the rest of the year, impacting its earlier forecast of returning to the black in 2009, as it particularly cuts back on gas-guzzling SUVs and large trucks. Instead, the company will focus on smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles as consumer demand shifts "quickly" in that direction. Shares were off 7.7%.
Separately, wholesale power-generation outfit
proposed an unsolicited takeout bid of $11 billion for rival
, which earlier this year dug itself out of bankruptcy. Shares of NRG slumped 4.9% as Calpine climbed 5.9%.
shares tumbled 4.9% even though the video-game retailer bumped up its full-year guidance and topped analyst targets for the most recent quarter with more-than-doubled earnings of $62.1 million, or 37 cents a share.
, however, rose 3.2% after nearly doubling its fiscal first-quarter profit with help from the sale of a joint venture. Adjusted earnings for the company, which operates the Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works retail chains, came in ahead of the average Wall Street estimate.
Among other positive retail earnings reports,
beat on both top and bottom lines for the fiscal first quarter, even as it guided under current-quarter projections. Jewelry purveyor
widened its quarterly loss, but the results were in line. Shares were up 3.4% and 12.4%, respectively.
On the other hand,
Barnes & Noble
cut its full-year guidance for same-store sales, or those for stores that have been open a year or more, to "slightly negative" from "slightly positive," even as the bookseller maintained its 2008 profit outlook. The company also
by a penny to 4 cents a share, though it was in line with expectations. The stock was recently down slightly at $29.87.
Dick's Sporting Goods
slid 18.7% after coming in a penny short of per-share expectations for the fiscal first quarter, and women's-apparel seller
reaffirmed its full-year outlook, which dips below the analyst consensus. Its shares dipped 11 cents to $26.66.
Treasury prices were plunging. The 10-year note was down 1-3/32 in price to yield 3.94%, and the 30-year bond slid 1-23/32 in price, yielding 4.65%.
Markets abroad were mixed. The Nikkei 225 in Tokyo added 0.4% overnight, but Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index sank 1.6%. In Europe, the FTSE 100 slipped 0.3%, and Germany's Xetra Dax climbed 0.4%. The Paris Cac was up fractionally.