NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- In keeping with 2012's nearly non-stop upward trajectory, the buyers returned on Wednesday. The bulls got an assist from a well-timed hint at another round of quantitative easing, but a gain is a gain and the fact that Tuesday's drop didn't spark a round of nervous profit-taking has to be heartening. When the dust cleared, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had clawed back nearly 80 points, the S&P 500 was again sitting above 1350, and the VIX had returned to the relative calm of sub-20 levels. Even the Nasdaq Composite, with its gaudy 10%-plus gain this year, caught a bounce. It helped that the ADP employment change data seemed to bode well for Friday's February jobs report. The survey found that private payrolls swelled by 216,000 last month, up from 173,000 in January. That was actually a little below a consensus view of 220,000, but economists were impressed that the hiring was mostly seen in medium-sized businesses (88,000 jobs) and small businesses (108,000). Economists are looking for the government's report to show nonfarm payrolls swelled by 240,000, but the sentiment is now building for an upside surprise that would provide further confirmation that the recovery is building up some real momentum. A bigger deal on Thursday though will be the looming deadline on Greece's private creditors signing off on the restructuring deal that ultimately erase about 75% of the value of their bond holdings. About half of the debtors are on board, according to a report from The Associated Press, and 70% acceptance is being viewed as a tipping point for the deal to go through. Meanwhile, it's worth noting that Main Street is still plenty skittish about U.S. stocks. According to the latest data from the Investment Company Institute, long-term mutual funds investing in domestic equities lost a whopping $3.06 billion in the week ended Feb. 29. Some of that is folks taking money off the table but not all of it. Overall, funds investing in equities lost a total of $2.84 billion (international equities saw inflows of $226 million), breaking a streak of three straight weeks of inflows into stock funds. Bonds continued to rack in the big bucks, seeing inflows of $6.69 billion.
The near-constant drive higher off the October lows has made timing this market particularly difficult. By the time investors got comfortable with indications that the economy was improving, stocks had already made a major move higher with nary a pause. Tuesday wasn't much of a washout but still the buyers answered the call. If Greece is able to nail down the deal with its private creditors in time and Friday's jobs report is solid, stocks could be off to the races once again. As for Thursday's scheduled news, Altera ( ALTR) is due to issue a business update on Thursday. The chip maker gave a weak guidance when it reported its fiscal fourth-quarter results on Jan. 24, forecasting a sequential decline of 5-to-9% in sales for the first quarter. The stock is up less that 1% so far in 2012, and is down more than 7% in the past year ahead of the update; although it's bounced X% since scraping a 52-week low of $30.39 on Oct. 4. The sell side is mildly bullish at the moment with 19 of the 32 analysts covering Altera at strong buy (7) or buy (12), and the 12-month median price target at $43, implying upside potential of 15.7% from Wednesday's close at $37.15. Nomura Research added its voice to the bear ranks though on Wednesday, initiating coverage of the shares with a reduce rating and a $33 price target. The firm said the stocks looks overvalued compared to its peers and that the company is losing market share to Xilinx ( XLNX). "Trading at a 35% premium to its comp group, Altera is one of the most expensive names in our coverage," Nomura said. "It seems investors liked Altera's strong business model and outperformance last cycle; they appear to be looking for another sharp snap-back in equipment spending." The firm added that its channel checks are pointing to a more gradual recovery in global wireless spending in 2012 than Altera bulls seem to be counting on, and that it believes the company's expenses are outpacing its sales.
Ahead of the mid-quarter update, the average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters is for a profit of 37 cents a share from Altera in the March-ending period on revenue of $427.1 million. Texas Instruments ( TXN) will also offer up its mid-quarter update after the close on Thursday. The chip maker's stock is up 10% so far in 2012, and Wall Street is currently looking for earnings of 31 cents a share in the fiscal first quarter ending this month on revenue of $3.16 billion. Check out TheStreet's quote page for Texas Instruments for year-to-date share performance, analyst ratings, earnings estimates and much more. In addition, McDonald's ( MCD) is slated to report its February sales numbers on Thursday. Deutsche Bank, which has a buy rating and a $108 price target on the stock, is looking for a 7.8% increase in same-restaurant sales from the Dow component, up from 6.7% growth in January, but it sees some potential for a surprise to the upside. "We expect to see some 'noise' in both directions in the month, with Leap Day providing a significant benefit to headline sales, partly offset by difficult weather in Europe," the firm said. "Excluding these factors, our underlying SSS assumptions look somewhat conservative relative to recent trends, as we assume some 'reversion to the mean' in core comps." Shares of Mickey D's are flat in 2012 after being the top performer among the blue chips in 2011, rising 30.7%. The stock currently trades at a forward price-to-earnings multiple of 15.8X, more rich than the 13.1X multiple for the S&P 500, and it has a forward annual dividend yield of 2.8%. The majority of the sell side is bullish with 19 of the 28 analysts covering the stock at strong buy (6) or buy (13), and the 12-month median price target at $108. Check out TheStreet's quote page for McDonald's for year-to-date share performance, analyst ratings, earnings estimates and much more. Companies reporting their quarterly results early Thursday include A123 Systems ( AONE), Aeropostale ( ARO), Bluefly ( BFLY), Columbia Laboratories ( CBRX), Kirklands ( KIRK), Lifetime Brands ( LTM), Navistar ( NAV), Smithfield Foods ( SFD), Stein Mart ( SMRT), The Buckle ( BKE), and Williams-Sonoma ( WSM). The late roster features BioLase Technology ( BLTI), DepoMed ( DEPO), Eagle Bulk Shipping ( EGLE), Jones Soda ( JSDA), Quiksilver ( ZQK), Renren ( RENN), Smith & Wesson ( SWHC), Ulta Salon ( ULTA), and Zumiez ( ZUMZ). The economic calendar has the Challenger job cuts report for February at 7:30 a.m. ET; and the usual weekly initial and continuing jobless claims data at 8:30 a.m. ET. The consensus view for initial claims is 355,000, up slightly from 351,000 in the prior week. AIG shares pulled back in the after-hours session after the U.S. Treasury announced plans to sell $6 billion worth of its holdings in the insurance giant. The stock was last quoted at $28.88, down 2%, on volume of 3.7 million. -- Written by Michael Baron in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Michael Baron.