NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stocks finished mixed but were little moved by Thursday's deluge of economic data as volumes thinned on the last trading day before the three-day Christmas holiday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up by 14 points, or 0.1%, to 11,573, extending its winning streak to three sessions. The S&P 500 fell 2 points to finish at 1,257, while the Nasdaq Composite slipped 6 points to 2,666. All three indexes traded in tight ranges with the Dow ranging less than 40 points for the session. Alcoa ( AA), Verizon Communications ( VZ) and Chevron ( CVX) led the Dow higher, while Bank of America ( BAC), Travelers ( TRV) and Walt Disney ( DIS) capped gains among the blue chips. Nearly 616 million shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, while the Nasdaq's churn passed 1.27 billion. The breadth of the market was fairly evenly split with 46.1% of the stocks advancing, while 49.5% declined. Basic materials, energy and healthcare stocks rose, while financials, transportation and consumer cyclical stocks fell under pressure. Crude oil prices reached a new two-year high, with the February crude oil contract rising by $1.05 to $91.53.
Oil prices are forecast to touch $100 in 2011, as the global economy recovers and inventories tighten. Economic data on Thursday was largely in-line with expectations, a mild disappointment to investors hoping for signs showing the recovery is accelerating. "For a day with so many data points, the market's reaction has been a yawn," said Christopher Low, economist at FTN Financial. "Part of it is low volumes but it is also because we got plain vanilla, as-expected results." Low said that with bullish sentiment still extremely high and the S&P 500 multiple edging higher, the markets may be due for a pullback. "The economy is better than it was a quarter ago but not much better."
The Labor Department said
initial jobless claims fell by 3,000 last week to a seasonally-adjusted 420,000. Economists were expecting claims to rise to 424,000, according to consensus estimates listed on Briefing.com.
"The slower improvement in initial jobless claims shows that layoffs are slowing down but not as much as before," noted Low. On the other hand, the surprise decline in continuing claims and extended benefits suggests that hiring may be finally picking up, he added. The Bureau of Economic Analysis said
personal incomes rose by a higher-than-expected 0.3% in November, while personal spending edged up 0.4%, slightly lower than the 0.5% predicted by economists. The Commerce Department said durable goods orders fell 1.3% in November , worse than expected. Excluding transportation, durable goods orders showed a smart 2.4% jump, higher than the 0.8% economists were expecting, according to Briefing.com. The University of Michigan Consumer Confidence Index came in flat at 74.5 in December versus 74.1 in November. The reading was expected to come in at 74.8. Still the index was at a six-month high. New-home sales rose 5.5% in November to a seasonally-adjusted annualized rate of 290,000, from a downwardly revised rate of 275,000 in October. Stocks in the homebuilder sector were mostly lower despite the uptick. Lennar ( LEN) tumbled 4.2% to close at $18.17, PulteGroup ( PHM) fell 3.4% to $7.38 and D.R. Horton ( DHI) lost 3% to finish the session at $11.91. Small-cap builder Hovnanian Enterprises ( HOV) shed 5.2% to $4.03. Analysts from Bank of America/Merrill Lynch downgraded the stock to underperform, from a buy rating, after the builder posted disappointing quarterly results earlier this week.
In the latest round of M&A action,
Jo-Ann Stores ( JAS) shares surged 31.9% to $60.19 after aggreeing to be acquired by private equity firm Leonard Green for $1.6 billion, a 34% premium to its Wednesday closing price. Also, Rovi ( ROVI) agreed to buy Sonic Solutions ( SNIC) for $720 million in a stock-and-cash transaction as part of its strategy to expand its digital entertainment offerings. Sonic Solutions shares climbed 28.7% to $14.42. Shares of Rovi slid 1.9% to $57.26. Viacom ( VIA) said it divested its money-losing Harmonix Music Systems, maker of the Rock Band video game, to Columbus Nova. Viacom shares lost 0.9% to $45.67. In corporate news, Boeing ( BA) said test flights of its 787 Dreamliner will resume as early as Thursday after the aircraft was grounded for six weeks following an electrical fire. Boeing shares added 0.7% to $65.06. Expedia ( EXPE) shares lost 1.1% to $26.33 after saying it would hide airfares for AMR's ( AMR) American Airlines on its travel website. The measure was taken to support Orbitz Worldwide ( OWW) in its legal dispute with the airline. AT&T ( T) said it will add Android Market purchases to its customers' monthly phone bill, choosing not to wait for Google ( GOOG) and EBay's ( EBAY) PayPal to resolve their standoff. AT&T shares added 0.2% to close at $29.20. IPO-bound Skype suffered a massive pre-Christmas service outage because of what it called "a software issue." The timing of the outage is particularly tough coming during one of the busiest calling seasons of the year. It also comes as Skype prepares to sell as much as $1 billion worth of its shares in a public offering. Bed Bath & Beyond ( BBBY) beat Wall Street earnings expectations for a ninth straight quarter late Wednesday. The diversified retailer reported a third-quarter profit of $188.6 million, or 74 cents per share, up from $151.3 million, or 58 cents, a year earlier, and well ahead of analysts' expectations for 66 cents a share. Shares of Bed Bath jumped 5.1% to $50.10. Micron Technologies ( MU) reported first-quarter earnings of $155 million, or 15 cents per share, coming in well below the average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters for earnings of 28 cents a share. Shares of the semiconductor manufacturer lost 4.1% to $7.94. Sirius XM Radio ( SIRI) gained 0.6% to $1.61 after Edmunds.com said the number of new car sales in the U.S. will reach the highest level of the year this December, expanding the satellite radio provider's customer base. Israeli drug company Teva Pharmaceuticals ( TEVA) said the Food and Drug Administration did not approve a more concentrated form of its multiple sclerosis drug, Copaxone. Still the stock rose 2.9% to $52.69. Shares of Novo Nordisk ( NVO) spiked 3.2% to $111.16 after it said it had obtained positive results from phase III trials of a diabetes drug that reduced the risk of nocturnal hypoglycemia. Novo Nordisk said it would likely launch the drug in 2013.
In commodities, the February gold contract fell $6.90 to $1,380.50 an ounce. The benchmark 10-year Treasury note was down 13/32, raising the yield to 3.397%.
Global stocks dipped on light volumes Thursday ahead of the Christmas break. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.6%, while Japan's Nikkei closed lower by 0.2%. In Europe, Ireland's Finance Minister announced plans to recapitalize Allied Irish Banks ( AIB) by $4.8 billion, effectively nationalizing the bank. Shares were down 12% at $0.13. Concerns about the debt problems in Europe remained in focus, as Fitch downgraded Portugal's debt rating by one notch. The FTSE in the U.K. rose 0.2%, while the DAX in Frankfurt closed lower by 0.1% The euro was last up by 0.09% against the dollar at $1.3112. The dollar was trading lower against basket of currencies, with the dollar index down 0.3%. -- Written by Shanthi Bharatwaj and Miriam Marcus Reimer in New York.