NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Volatility has quickly become the new normal on Wall Street. Thursday's session was characterized by blink-and-you'll-miss-it turns in direction with all benchmark indexes posting gains by the afternoon session after losses earlier.
The S&P 500 had recovered from losses by the afternoon, adding 1%. The Nasdaq wasup 0.94%.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 1.25%, 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 5% 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.
"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," said Wells Fargo Investment Institute analysts in a report. "Through January 22nd every day this year has seen the S&P 500 Index trade in at least a 1% range, based on daily highs and lows -- whereas this occurred only 79 times in all of 2014."
Stocks were pressured earlier after a series of disappointing earnings reports from high-momentum tech players. Qualcomm (QCOM) - Get QUALCOMM Incorporated Report was down more than 9% despite beating earnings estimates. The chipmaker cut its profit outlook on increased competition in China, guiding for full-year earnings as high as $5.05 a share, below estimates of $5.21.
Alibaba (BABA) - Get Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Sponsored ADR Report 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 9%. Yahoo! (YHOO) , which owns a 15% stake in Alibaba, tumbled 5.6%.
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 more than 1%.
Facebook (FB) - Get Facebook, Inc. Class A Report shares were fluctuating 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.
Losses in the tech sector overshadowed better-than-expected earnings results elsewhere. Deutsche Bank (DB) - Get Deutsche Bank AG Report was up nearly 5% 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%.
Ford (F) - Get Ford Motor Company Report was 3% higher after sales and earnings beat forecasts. Foreign currency translation clipped profits in some regions including the Asia Pacific. Colgate-Palmolive (CL) - Get Colgate-Palmolive Company Report was up 6.4%. Net profit of 76 cents a share narrowly beat forecasts by 2 cents.
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. "With annual payroll gains coming off their strongest year in 15 years, consumer confidence at cycle highs, and wage growth expected to accelerate in the coming months, we retain an optimistic outlook on housing, even as we caution that momentum is likely to remain choppy over the near-term."
Crude oil prices slipped on Wednesday as U.S. inventories increased 8.9 million barrels over the week, nearly double estimates of 4.6 million barrels. On Thursday, West Texas Intermediate recovered from earlier losses to climb 0.2% to $44.54 a barrel.
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 2.9% 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 was slightly higher 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 2.2% to $1,256 an ounce. Silver futures tanked 6.5% to $16.91 an ounce. Copper was down 1% to $245.55 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.
--Written by Keris Alison Lahiff in New York.