-- Stocks

continued to rally

Wednesday as Wall Street showed it believes the improvement in the employment picture is solid enough, even if numbers come in just shy of expectations.


Dow Jones Industrial Average

will have a three-session positive streak on the line when Thursday's bell sounds and another round of jobs data could keep the party going.

Initial and continuing jobless claims are slated to be delivered at 8:30 a.m. ET. These numbers are expected to be on the positive side. Initial jobless claims for the week ended March 19 fell 5,000 to 382,000. The four-week average has tip-toed lower to 385,250. These are the best readings of the recovery.

Continuing claims also posted their best level in the past two and a half years earlier this month, down 2,000 to 3.721 million for the week ended March 12. Wednesday's ADP employment survey said 200,000 jobs were added in the private sector, a bit less than economists were projecting, while Challenger's layoff report showed fewer layoffs planned (unless it's a government job).

Investors will also have factory orders, due at 10 a.m. ET, to consider. Orders jumped 3.1% in January with the gain mostly coming from aircraft. Increases for non-durables, specifically petroleum and coal, along with gains for metals largely reflected the rise in prices for those commodities. There's a change for a disappointment here though as durables orders for February declined 0.9%.

The stress tests for the four surviving main Irish banks are tol be published on Thursday. Expectations are pretty low.

Bank of Ireland


Irish Life and Permanent

could join the ranks of the nationally owned banks. IL&P is especially exposed to Ireland's downward spiraling mortgage market and its retail arm has loans twice the size of its deposits.

On the corporate side,


(KMX) - Get Report

reports its quarterly results before the opening bell. Wall Street is looking for earnings of 38 cents a share in the February-ended period on revenue of $2.18 billion.

Analysts will be watching for sales volumes and average transaction prices. This should give an idea of the appetite for used cars. Plus, with banks holding on to their cash, CarMax Auto Finance could be a bright spot for the company if more customers are looking in-house for financing.

Also DryShips

(DRYS) - Get Report

reported its quarterly results late on Wednesday, posting fourth-quarter adjusted earnings of $83 million, or 24 cents a share, on revenue $215.8 million. The average estimate of analysts polled by

Thomson Reuters

was for a profit of 26 cents a share on revenue of $221.1 million in the December period.

The Greek drybulk shipper will hold its conference call on Thursday. At Wednesday's closing price of $4.93, the volatile stock is down 15% in the past year but has gained 7% so far this week.

A potentially interesting shareholder meeting takes place on Thursday when luxury goods giant



hold its annual get-together. Executives are expected to answer questions about the impact of the Japanese earthquake on sales. It's a sensitive topic, for sure, but LVMH has 300 stores in Japan that deliver a tenth of its global sales.

Another hot topic at the meeting may be the recent ouster of designer John Galliano at Christian Dior. The star designer was fired after making anti-Semitic comments that were captured on video.

On the international front, the Bank of Japan is due to issue its latest Tankan survey, which measures business sentiment. It's released four times each year, taking the temperature on the outlook of Japanese companies. This report won't reflect the influence of the earthquake and could be fairly positive.

A lack of cohesion on global monetary reform will also be on display in what's left of this week when the Group of 20 wealthy and developing economies meets in China, which is apparently a reluctant host.

And finally, keep in mind that the end of the first quarter will be celebrated with a reweighting of the indexes. Trading based on these changes will mostly occur during Thursday's after-hours session through Friday morning.


Written by Debra Borchardt in New York


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