NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stocks finished modestly higher after pushing past key levels on Thursday, though mixed economic reports and lower-than-expected sales from Dow components AT&T ( T) and Procter & Gamble ( PG) kept the advance in check. The Dow Jones Industrial Average crossed the 12,000 mark for a second consecutive session but again pulled back to close up just 4.4 points, or 0.04%, at 11,990. The blue-chip index has risen in four of the past five sessions, is on pace for a ninth straight positive week, and is up 3.56% in January. The S&P 500, meanwhile, was able to surmount its own psychologically significant marker of 1,300 in intra-day action but it followed the same pattern, settling up 3 points, or 0.2%, to finish just shy at 1299. The Nasdaq Composite gained 16 points, or 0.6%, to close at 2755. Home Depot ( HD), United Technologies ( UTX), General Electric ( GE) and Boeing ( BA) were the prominent gainers within the Dow. AT&T, Procter & Gamble, Kraft Foods ( KFT) and Alcoa ( AA) were the Dow's biggest laggards. Breadth within the Dow was positive with 17 stocks rising while 12 declined. Shortly before the closing bell, Microsoft ( MSFT) surprised markets with the early announcement of its fourth-quarter results. The software giant
beat estimates on both the top and bottom lines with EPS of 77 cents on a revenue of $19.5 billion. Shares were off by 0.4% to $28.87. Shares of Amazon ( AMZN), however, were down 9% to $167.67 in extended trading after the online retailer missed revenue estimates. Trading on the big board was lighter than usual as another snowstorm blanketed much of the U.S.'s East Coast. About 986 million shares changed hands on the NYSE, while volumes on the Nasdaq totaled more than 2 billion. Market breadth leaned to the positive with 55% of stocks on the New York Stock Exchange advancing and 42% losing ground. Initial weekly jobless claims jumped by 51,000 to their highest level since October at 454,000, according to the Labor Department's report for the week ended Jan. 22. Economists had been expecting a slight increase to 410,000, according to Briefing.com.
The Department of Commerce said
durable goods orders unexpectedly dropped 2.5% in December, after slipping 0.3% in November. According to Briefing.com, economists had forecast an increase of 1.5%. Excluding transportation, orders grew by 0.5%, which was largely in line with the 0.6% uptick that the market anticipated. In November, orders, excluding transportation, rose by 2.4% in the prior month.
Michael Yoshikami, president and chief investment strategist at YCMNET Advisors, said both durable goods orders and jobless claims data were skewed by seasonal factors and shouldn't be cause for too much concern. "Durable goods orders dropped off after a surge in aircraft deliveries and jobless claims were affected by the snowstorm so I'm not too concerned by these numbers and I think the market is showing that it's not too concerned, either," he said. The
National Association of Realtors said pending-home sales rose 2% in December, exceeding economists' expectations for a dip of 0.5%. Also denting sentiment was news that Standard & Poor's cut Japan's credit rating to "AA-" from "AA," citing concerns about the country's ability to pay its growing debt. In other global news, anti-government protests continued for a third day in Cairo, sending Egypt's benchmark index, the EGX30, down more than 10% -- it's biggest decline in more than two years, according to a report from the Associated Press. Shares of Caterpillar ( CAT) gained 0.9% to $96.63 after the Peoria, Ill.-based machinery giant handily beat Wall Street's profit view with its fourth-quarter earnings of $1.47 a share. The company said sales jumped 62% to $12.81 billion, far exceeding Wall Street's estimate for sales of $11.63 billion. Eli Lilly ( LLY) saw its stock gain 1.5% at $35.47 after the pharmaceutical company reported a 28% jump in net income as higher volumes led to a sales boost of 4%. Shares of Netflix ( NFLX) jumped 15.2% to $210.87 after the company reported better-than-expected earnings late Wednesday and said subscribers soared past the 20-million mark for the first time. Teradyne ( TER) saw its shares soar 11.8% to $16.35 after it said fourth quarter sales doubled and gave a rosy outlook for the current quarter. The stock of Helmerich & Payne ( HP) shot up 9.5% to $56.74 after it posted better-than-expected results on higher rig utilization.
Murphy Oil ( MUR) was among the biggest losers on the S&P 500 after it missed analyst estimates for the fourth quarter. Deutsche Bank downgraded the stock to a hold and reduced the price target to $80. Shares plunged 10.2% to $65.74. In commodity markets, the March crude oil contract shed $1.69 to settle at $85.64 a barrel. The February gold contract shed $14.60 to settle at $1,318.40 an ounce. The dollar weakened against a basket of currencies with the dollar index down by 0.1%. The benchmark 10-year Treasury rose 8/32, diluting the yield to 3.389%.
. Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.3% while Japan's Nikkei gained 0.7%. London's FTSE dipped 0.07% while the DAX in Frankfurt added 0.4%. --Written by Melinda Peer and Shanthi Bharatwaj in New York.