NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Halfway through writing this preview the news that Steve Jobs had passed away at the age of 56 broke. Despite knowing about the seriousness of his health situation, it's still a shocker. Jobs' irrepressible imagination revolutionized the way so many of us experience technology, and while I may lament the digital playlist making a dinosaur of the cassette mix tape, there's no denying he enriched the world in a way that few individuals are ever able to do. This quote shows just how clearly he understood what life is really all about. "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose," he said in a commencement speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005. "You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart." The time to consider the implications of this news for Apple ( AAPL) the company will come, but it's not tonight. Jobs had already stepped away from the day-to-day a while ago, and since he picked the people now in charge, you have to believe Apple is in pretty good hands. As for Thursday's trading session, Jobs' passing will cast a long shadow. The tributes will be pouring in through the night, and all day tomorrow, and rightly so, but as always on Wall Street, the trading will go on. Turning to the broad market, two rallies in two days, and it seems we've gone from bankruptcy rumors to takeover chatter. Swapping out fears that Eastman Kodak ( EK) or AMR Corp. ( AMR) and American Airlines are going down the tubes for rumblings that Microsoft ( MSFT) is readying another run at Yahoo ( YHOO), and Research In Motion ( RIMM) is in play seems like a pretty good trade for the bulls, who on Wednesday took some mildly positive economic data and more hints that Europe may find its footing and ran with it. Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at Standard & Poor's, isn't convinced though that the buyers will hang around for long. "History shows (but does not guarantee) that an oversized price decline in one quarter is typically followed by a sharp advance in the next," he said in commentary after Wednesday's close. "Also, expectations surrounding Friday's payroll report and Q3 earnings are now quite low, in our opinion, possibly offering this rally the catalyst for near-term propulsion. Yet we believe this rally will be short-lived as prices encounter chart resistance, just as the leveraging of the EFSF
European Financial Stability Fund is expected to face German resistance."
Tomorrow's tape features the usual weekly initial and continuing jobless claims data at 8:30 a.m. ET. The consensus is calling for initial claims to stay right at the 400K mark ahead of Friday's jobs report from the government. After Wednesday's fairly decent ADP report, the expectations for a better than expected number have likely been ratcheted up a bit. The other big event for U.S. markets on Thursday will be the European Central Bank's decision on interest rates with Jean-Claude Trichet taking a final bow as president. And finally, the only earnings report of any consequence is Constellation Brands ( STZ) before Thursday's opening bell, and the average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters is calling for the Victor, N.Y.-based alcohol purveyor to post a profit of 66 cents a share in its fiscal second quarter on revenue of $667.9 million. The stock closed Wednesday at $18.72, up 2.5% on the day, but still down roughly 20% so far in 2011. Wall Street is taking a sober view of the company, whose brands include Robert Mondavi wines and Black Velvet Canadian whisky, with 8 of the 12 analysts covering the shares at either hold (7) or underperform (1). The company, which also has an importing business, has topped the consensus view in eight straight quarters. Auriga USA initiated coverage of the stock with a buy rating and a 12-month price target of $25 on Sept. 26, taking the view that the company's efforts to divest certain businesses could lead to a lean, mean Constellation Brands with stronger earnings power that should warrant a higher valuation. "In fiscal 2012, we expect Constellation's revenue to decline to $2.66 billion from $3.33 billion in fiscal 2011 due to the divestiture of its Australian and European businesses," the firm said. "However, we expect its remaining businesses to grow in the low- to mid- single digit range. In addition, with the elimination of low-margin brands, we expect gross margins to improve several hundred basis points. Overall, we expect normalized, diluted earnings per share to rise to $1.96 in fiscal 2012 (ending Feb 2012) from $1.91 last year."
Auriga also said the company could eventually look to divest its spirits portfolio and "revert to simply being a wine company in the future," saying the Black Velvet and SVEDKA Vodka brands could attract interest if put up for sale. -- Written by Michael Baron in New York.