Stocks Finish With Mild Gains

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The major U.S. equity averages finished slightly higher Thursday as investors balanced mediocre jobless claims and durable goods data against mostly upbeat earnings reports.

Wall Street eagerly awaited Apple's ( AAPL) quarterly results throughout the session. The stock, which fell 1.1% ahead of the numbers, was halted after the iPhone maker reported a lighter than anticipated profit for its fiscal fourth quarter but topped revenue expectations.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average added more than 26 points, or 0.20%, to close at 13,104. The blue-chip index had fallen in the previous two sessions as well as in four of the past six trading days. The Dow remains up 7.25% so far this year, but has now pulled back more than 500 points from its high for the year.

Breadth within Dow was slightly positive, with winners ahead of losers, 18 to 11 and General Electric ( GE) finishing flat. The top percentage gainers were Procter & Gamble ( PG), Chevron ( CVX), Pfizer ( PFE) and Intel ( INTC).

Blue-chip decliners included Boeing ( BA), Home Depot ( HD) and Travelers ( TRV).

The S&P 500 gained a little more than 4 points, or 0.30%, to finish at1413, while the Nasdaq also added more than 4 points, or 0.15%, at 2986.

The weakest sectors in the broad market were capital goods, conglomerates, services and technology. Consumer non-cyclicals, consumer cyclicals, energy and basic materials were in the green.

Advancers were outpacing losers by a 1.5-to-1 ratio on the New York Stock Exchange and a 1.4-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq. Volume totaled 3.50 billion on the New York Stock Exchange and 1.92 billion on the Nasdaq.

Thursday's economic data did the equities market few favors. The Labor Department initial jobless claims in the week ended Oct. 20 came in at 369,000, a decrease of 23,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised figure of 392,000.

The four-week moving average was 368,000, an increase of 1,500 from the previous week's revised average of 366,500.

Continuing claims for the week ended Oct. 13 came in at 3.254 million, a decrease of 2,000 from the prior week's upwardly revised level of 3.256 million.

Economists, on average, were expecting initial jobless claims of 370,000 and continuing claims of 3.255 million.

"While layoffs have not budged much, the labor market continues to suffer from lackluster hiring. At least in part, the latter is probably being held back by economic policy uncertainty emanating from Washington D.C.," remarked economists in an RBS client report.

Durable-goods orders rose 9.9% in September after a decline by an upwardly revised 13.1% in August.

Excluding the transportation component, orders increased 2% versus a downwardly revised 2.1% fall the prior month.

On average, economists expected durable goods orders to rise 7.1% in September and 0.8% when factoring out the transportation component.

"This is a pretty disappointing duo all things considered, with claims revised higher for the nonfarm payrolls survey week. But it's the components to durable goods which is a real disappointment with drops to the core orders and shipments," said David Ader, strategist at CRT.

"Bizarrely, even though September's durable goods report shows an above-consensus 9.9% m/m rebound in orders, the overall report is a disappointment that signals third-quarter GDP growth was weaker than previously thought," said Capital Economics in emailed commentary following the release.

The latest U.S. housing data wasn't a boon to sentiment either with the National Association of Realtors reporting that its pending home sales index rose by a smaller-than-expected 0.3% in September after falling 2.6% in August amid a decline in the Midwest by 5.8%.

Economists on average thought that pending home sales would increase 2.1% in September.

"Overall, an uninspired housing sector report, but one that continues to suggest some positive momentum," said Ian Lyngen, strategist at CRT.

Across the pond, the U.K. Office for National Statistics said the region came out of a recession in the third quarter, logging more robust-than-anticipated growth of 1% as the service sector got a boost from the London Olympics.

China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said that the country's factory output may speed up in the fourth quarter versus the third quarter.

The FTSE in London finished flat and the DAX in Germany closed up 0.10%. The Nikkei Average in Tokyo closed up 1.13% on Thursday. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index finished up 0.21%.

December crude oil futures close up 32 cents at $86.05 a barrel. December gold futures settled up $11.40 at $1,713 an ounce.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury finished down 13/32, raising the yield to 1.838%. The dollar was up 0.11%, according to the dollar index.

On the corporate news front. Procter & Gamble ( PG) shares rose 2.9% after the consumer products giant posted fiscal first-quarter profit of $1.06 a share a share, beating the average analyst estimate of 96 cents a share, and reiterated its full-year earnings projections as the company focuses on cost reductions and sharpening its presence in key markets.

Revenue came in at $20.74 billion, below the consensus forecast of $20.78 billion.

Shares of Aetna ( AET) increased 1.1% after the insurance company surpassed third-quarter earnings estimates as stronger-than-anticipated sales increases offset costs tied to its Coventry Health Care acquisition and debt payments.

Shares of Ryland ( RYL) added 3.9% after the homebuilder and mortgage-finance company topped third-quarter profit and sales projections amid a spike in average closing prices, new orders gross profit margin.

Crocs ( CROX) shares plummeted 21.2% after the footwear company gave a fourth-quarter guidance that missed expectations.

Best Buy ( BBY) shares lost 10.3% after the consumer electronics retailer warned of a decline for both its profit and same-store sales in the third quarter and announced a management shakeup.

Shares of United ( UAL) shed 5% after the world's largest airline missed analysts' earnings estimates, as unit revenue fell in every region except the Pacific.

After Thursday's close, ( AMZN), the Internet retailer, posted a third-quarter loss of $274 million, or 60 cents a share, which was far worse than the expected 7 cents a share loss. It was reversal from year-earlier profit of 14 cents a share. Shares were down 4.1% in after hours trades after losing more than 2% in the regular session.

Zynga ( ZNGA), the social gaming company, posted stronger-than-expected revenue for the third quarter on Wednesday and said it reached a deal to offer online poker and casino games, played with real money, in the United Kingdom. Shares surged 12.3%.

Symantec ( SYMC) skipped past Wall Street's second-quarter estimates, posting revenue of $1.7 billion, an increase of 1% from a year earlier, or a 5% hike adjusted for the effects of currency. Analysts were looking for sales of $1.66 billion.

Excluding items, Symantec, the security software specialist, earned 45 cents a share, up from 39 cents a share in the year-earlier quarter, and comfortably above analysts' forecast of 38 cents a share. Shares finished up 6.7%.

Sprint Nextel ( S) shares fell 1.8% after the company posted a narrower-than-expected third-quarter loss of 26 cents a share, amid a loss of customers from the iDen network that it is winding down and heavy investments on a network upgrade. Revenue came in at $8.76 billion. Analysts, on average, were expecting loss of 43 cents a share on revenue of $8.81 billion.

McKesson ( MCK) shares gained 4.1% after the no. 1 U.S. drug distributor said it has agreed to acquire all outstanding shares of PSS World Medical ( PSSI) for $29 a share in cash, with the total transaction valued at about $2.1 billion, to increase the company's strength in providing medical supplies, services and technology to physician and extended care customers. PSS World shares soared 32.3%.

McKesson also raised its full-year guidance to earnings per share of $7.15 to $7.35 from prior projection of $7.05 to $7.35 per share after posting better-than-expected fiscal second-quarter earnings.

--Written by Andrea Tse and Joe Deaux in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.

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