Updated from 8:02 p.m ET to include information on Wednesday's after-hours movers.



) -- Considering the selling pressure brought on by the


(ORCL) - Get Report

debacle and the temptation for investors to book some profits on Tuesday's massive gain, the stock market

held up pretty well on Wednesday


It was Big Blue that really put a damper on the blue chips. Remove the impact of


(IBM) - Get Report

3% decline (43.67 points) from the equation, and the

Dow Jones Jones Industrial Average

would have been up almost 50 points. That would have qualified as a nice follow-through after a gangbusters day, low volumes or not.

Now, with no more market-moving earnings reports through the end of the year, U.S. economic data and Europe's headlines will decide whether stocks have one more big spike higher left in the tank before 2011 draws to a close.

The charts could also be a factor as

S&P Capital IQ

said late Wednesday the technicals look promising for a strong finish to the year.

"We believe the stock market is poised for continued strength through the rest of 2011 and into 2012," the firm said. "The major indices have now traced out a higher low, but need to post a higher high for confirmation that the recent consolidation is complete from a bullish perspective."

S&P Capital IQ has a 12-month target of 1400 for the S&P 500, implying potential upside of 11% from Wednesday's close at 1244, and says the next key area for the index is around 1260.

"We think a strong break above 1,260 would confirm the uptrend and open the door for a strong rally up to the next major area of strong chart resistance between 1,350 and 1,370 some time in the first quarter of 2012," the firm wrote.

Meantime, a third straight drop in weekly initial jobless claims on Thursday would go a long way toward staving off an appearance by the Grinch. According to


, the consensus estimate is calling for a bump back up to 388,000 from last week's shocker of 366,000, the lowest level in more than three and a half years.

Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at

High Frequency Economics

, is expecting a rise to 390,000 because claims "rarely move smoothly even when the underlying trend is very strong," but he's also optimistic that the employment picture is improving and went on to note that "a third straight drop in today's report would be very startling and would add weight to the idea that something real is happening in the labor market."

That's a very different proposition than what could have been reasonably discussed as recently as a few weeks ago when claims were still chugging along at 400,000 or so, and it adds a bit of drama to watching the tape tomorrow morning.

Beyond the weekly claims data, the calendar also features the third estimate of gross domestic product for the third quarter at 8:30 a.m. ET; the final University of Michigan consumer sentiment reading for December at 9:55 a.m. ET; leading indicators for November at 10 a.m. ET; and the Federal Housing Finance Agency's housing price index for October at 10 a.m. ET.

Capital Economics

put the recent


in housing in perspective on Wednesday, saying the end of five straight years of declines in 2012 wouldn't necessarily mean happy days are here again.

"The long and painful downward march of house prices may soon come to an end," the firm said. "Even so, lingering credit constraints will prevent a rapid rebound. At best, prices will be broadly unchanged in both 2012 and 2013."

The firm also believes there's still a psychological toll to be paid from the mortgage crisis.


It will take many years to rekindle America's love affair with homeownership," Capital Economics said. "And over the next few years up to three million more foreclosures will support supply. Prices may well fall one quarter and rise the next, but sustained gains won't be seen until 2014."

Earnings news is light on Thursday with

American Greetings

(AM) - Get Report


Christopher & Banks

(CBK) - Get Report

among the few companies opening the books.


after-hours movers


Bed Bath & Beyond

(BBBY) - Get Report

, which dipped after falling a tad short on sales in the latest quarter;

Micron Technology

(MU) - Get Report

, which surrendered a few pennies after posting a much quarterly deeper loss than expected; and


(VVUS) - Get Report

, which lost nearly 10% after the company

said interim trial results had revealed a birth defect risk related to its proposed weight-loss drug Qnexa


And finally,



could be active on Thursday as the company seems to be drawing closer to making some kind of decision about its strategic options. The latest


is that it could look to cash out of some of its holdings in



Yahoo! Japan

in a deal worth $17 billion.

That number seems high given that Yahoo! own market capitalization was at $19.8 billion based on Wednesday's close at $15.99, but any kind of move would probably be welcomed by impatient investors at this point, given the myriad reports and subsequent inaction that's been seen since Carol Bartz was ousted as CEO in early September.

The stock is down nearly 10% this year, but it's booked a respectable bounce of more than 40% since hitting a 52-week low of $11.09 on Aug. 8.

Much of that gain is based on Bartz being gone and the expectation of an acquisition or divestiture though so Yahoo! ought to make with the deal sooner than later.


says Yahoo!'s board will be mulling over the potential deal on its Asian assets Thursday.


Written by Michael Baron in New York.

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Michael Baron


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