NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Thursday's session was characterized by blink-and-you'll-miss-it turns in direction with benchmark indexes closing with surprisingly big gains following heavy losses earlier.
Volatility has quickly become the new normal on Wall Street. After plummeting on Wednesday, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq spent much of the day in the red before recouping losses and extending gains late in the afternoon session. The S&P 500 closed 0.96% higher and the Nasdaq wasup 0.98%.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged 1.3%, boosted by a jump in McDonald's (MCD) - Get McDonald's Corporation (MCD) Report shares. The world's largest fast food chain was more than 4% higher after announcing that CEO Don Thompson would be leaving the company. Thompson had held the position since July 2012 during some of the its worst years of draining sales and weak profits.
Stock markets have ridden increased volatility, most recently on Wednesday when benchmark indexes plummeted in the final hour following the release of the Federal Reserve's post-meeting statement.
"If it feels like the daily market swings have been larger recently, it's probably because they have been," says Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives at Schwab Center for Financial Research. "2015 has actually been nearly twice as volatile as 2014 so far."
Wells Fargo analysts elaborated that for the first three weeks of the year, the S&P 500 traded in at least a 1% range every day. By way of comparison, this only occurred 79 times over 2014. "Thus far in 2015, volatility is higher across the currency, equity and fixed income markets largely fueled by fears of growth, several international events and earnings season uncertainty," analysts wrote in a report.
It was earnings that fueled volatility over Thursday's session with better-than-expected reports from JetBlue (JBLU) - Get JetBlue Airways Corporation Report and Ford (F) - Get Ford Motor Company Report overshadowing disappointing results from tech companies such as Qualcomm (QCOM) - Get QUALCOMM Incorporated Report and Alibaba (BABA) - Get Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Sponsored ADR Report by the afternoon session.
JetBlue added 8.8% with profits helped along by a 13% drop in fuel costs of the fourth quarter. Revenue passenger miles jumped 8.5% to 9.4 billion. Ford was 2.7% higher after sales and earnings beat forecasts. Foreign currency translation clipped profits in some regions including the Asia Pacific.
Harman International (HAR) roared nearly 24% higher after handily beating second-quarter estimates and guiding for full-year profit of $5.85 a share, well above previous guidance of $5.25.
Deutsche Bank (DB) - Get Deutsche Bank AG Report was up nearly 6% after reporting an unexpected fourth-quarter profit on increased investment banking revenue. Coach (COH) shares rose more than 6% as comparable sales in the U.S. fell at a slower-than-expected pace. Second-quarter income of 72 cents a share beat estimates, though revenue dropped 14%.
Among the worse-than-expected earnings reports, Qualcomm tanked more than 10% after cutting its profit outlook on increased competition in China. The chipmaker guided for full-year earnings as high as $5.05 a share, below estimates of $5.21.
Alibaba was selling off after missing sales estimates, a symptom of slowing growth in the Chinese e-commerce market. The company reported revenue of $4.2 billion, though up 40% year over year, missed forecasts of $4.45 billion. Shares declined 8.8%. Yahoo! (YHOO) , which owns a 15% stake in Alibaba, tumbled 5.9%.
Time Warner Cable (TWC) missed profit and sales forecasts as video subscribers continued to leave its cable service. Residential video customers fell 38,000, though residential high-speed data subscribers increased 168,000. Shares fell 1%.
Facebook (FB) - Get Facebook, Inc. Class A Report shares fluctuated after management said it planned for heavy investment in growth over 2015. Quarterly profit surged to 54 cents a share from 31 cents last year. Shares closed 2.3% higher.
Crude prices had recovered from an earlier dive Thursday with West Texas Intermediate crude up 0.4% at $44.61 a barrel. The commodity had stabilized after plunging on Wednesday as U.S. inventories increased 8.9 million barrels over the week, nearly double estimates.
Crude oil prices remain more than half their midsummer peak in 2014 and the plunge is having a continued effect on oil companies. Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A) tumbled 2.8% despite nearly doubling fourth-quarter profit to $4.2 billion. The oiler said it plans to slash capital expenditures and other spending by $15 billion over the next three years in response to plunging oil prices.
ConocoPhillips (COP) - Get ConocoPhillips Report added 0.4% despite announcing plans to trim capex by $2 billion to $11.5 billion. That reduction was on top of a previously announced 20% decrease in its full-year budget.
Gold and silver prices were selling off alongside crude prices. Gold spot prices tumbled 2.1% to $1,257 an ounce. Silver futures tanked 6.6% to $16.90 an ounce. Copper was down 1.1% to $245.15 a pound.
Commodities have been under pressure since Goldman Sachs warned on Wednesday that they will lag equities and bonds over the next three months. The bank slashed its outlook on raw materials to "underweight," with expectations of a 10% loss compared to a 0.4% gain for stocks.
The number of initial claims for unemployment benefits fell 43,000 to 265,000 in the week ended Jan. 24, their lowest level since April 2000. Economists had expected jobless claims of 300,000. The week, shortened by Martin Luther King Day, is typically volatile as the labor market settles after a busy holiday season. The more stable four-week average slipped to 298,500 from 306,750 a week earlier.
Pending home sales in January fell 3.7% month on month, a surprise drop compared to expectations of an increase of 0.5%. The decline was the largest monthly fall since December 2013.
"Despite the unexpected pullback, we expect pending home sales to recover some ground in the coming months as falling mortgage rates provide a tailwind to the housing market," said TD Securities' Gennadiy Goldberg.
--Written by Keris Alison Lahiff in New York.