The Dow Jones Industrial Average shook off recent weakness to post modest gains as a financials stocks staged a slight rebound.
The Dow gained 0.3% or 62 points. The S&P 500 was up 0.28%, and the Nasdaq rose 0.25%.
The financials sector was the top performer Thursday, clawing back from the losses seen in recent days. Bank of America (BAC - Get Report) , JPMorgan (JPM - Get Report) , Wells Fargo (WFC - Get Report) and Citigroup (C - Get Report) rose, while lesser-known industry names such as PrivateBancorp (PVTB) , First Capital (FCAP - Get Report) and LNB Bancorp (LNBB) posted some of the best gains. The Financials Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLF - Get Report) increased 1.5%.
Financials have recently seen weakness, pulling back from a post-election rally as worries surfaced over how effective the Trump administration will be in delivering its campaign promises.
The Obamacare repeal and replace bill was seen as a litmus test for the still-young Trump White House in how it could negotiate other campaign promises, including infrastructure spending and tax reform. Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan failed to secure the votes for health care reform, causing them to pull the bill late Friday.
ConocoPhillips (COP - Get Report) led the sector after securing a deal to sell its interest in its oil sands assets to Cenovus Energy (CVE - Get Report) . As part of the deal, Cenovus will acquire ConocoPhillips' 50% stake for $17.7 billion in a part-cash, part-share deal. The acquisition is expected to close over the second quarter. Cowen analysts said this "unexpected big deal" would be viewed positively by shareholders.
Crude oil prices continued to push higher on Thursday, settling at its highest level in more than three months. The commodity rallied a day earlier after a weekly reading on domestic inventories showed a smaller-than-expected rise. Production disruptions in Libya also gave rise to crude prices.
West Texas Intermediate crude oil rose 1.7% to $50.35 a barrel on Thursday.
"The pattern has been weak opens and then steady gains during the day," said James "Rev Shark" Deporre of recent price action in his daily column for RealMoney, our premium site for investors. "Traders will be watching to play that scenario once again."
The Dow remains on track to close out March with its first monthly loss since October, though. The blue-chip index has been under pressure in recent weeks as the sheen of a Trump presidency began to fade.
The U.S. economy grew at a pace of 2.1% from October to December, up from a previous estimate of 1.9%, according to the third and final estimate of fourth-quarter GDP. Analysts anticipated the measure to tick up to 2% growth over the period, the final full quarter under President Barack Obama's administration. Consumer spending increased to 3.5% from a previous estimate of 3%. Adjusted pretax corporate profits increased 0.5%.
"The third estimate of Q4 GDP paints a picture of a healthy consumer, likely fueled by ongoing gains in employment, modest increases in wages, and solid balance sheets," Barclays' Blerina Uruci wrote in a note. "We expect the economy to grow at a broadly similar pace in Q1, although we expect the composition to change toward a slower rate of increase in consumer spending and less of a drag from net trade."
Any weakness in the first-quarter GDP will likely be "transitory," Cleveland Federal Reserve President Loretta Mester said in remarks at the 10th Annual Risk Conference in Chicago on Thursday. Mester anticipates a "sustained return" to 2% inflation over the next year and GDP growth above 2% in 2017. She also anticipates more rate hikes this year, in line with the central bank's target of two more in 2017.
Weekly jobless claims held near multi-year lows for another week. The number of new claims for unemployment benefits fell by 3,000 to 258,000. The less-volatile four-week claims average rose by 7,750 to 254,250.
Lululemon Athletica (LULU - Get Report) slumped 24% after issuing a weak outlook for the first quarter. The athletic apparel brand anticipates first-quarter revenue no higher than $515 million and earnings between 25 cents to 27 cents a share. Analysts anticipated earnings of 39 cents a share on sales of $552 million. Fourth-quarter earnings also missed estimates.
Lululemon was downgraded to neutral from buy at Citigroup. It may take the company longer than expected to recover from a fashion miss in the first quarter, the firm said.
VF Corp. (VFC - Get Report) fell after detailing its plans over the next five years, including returning $8 billion to shareholders. The parent of Timberland said it planned to refocus on a consumer and retail model and increase its direct-to-consumer business. Revenue is expected to grow at a five-year compounded annual growth rate of 4% to 6% over the period through to 2021.
Exar (EXAR) was flat after being downgraded to hold from buy at Stifel Nicolaus. The semiconductor developer rocketed higher on Wednesday after agreeing to be bought by MaxLinear (MXL - Get Report) for roughly $661.6 million in an all-cash deal. MaxLinear offered $13 a share for Exar, a 22% premium to its close on Tuesday. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter.
Aeterna Zentaris (AEZS - Get Report) rose almost 8% after announcing plans to file a new drug application for its growth hormone deficiency treatment. The drugmaker met with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday and said that the company is "now one important step closer to the commercialization of Macrilen in the U.S., providing a much needed new option and alternative to the ITT (insulin tolerance test)."
Extreme Networks (EXTR - Get Report) surged 17.7% after partnering with Broadcom (AVGO - Get Report) to acquire Brocade Communications' (BRCD) data center networking business. Extreme will purchase the unit for $55 million in an all-cash deal with potential performance-based payments to Broadcom over the next five years.
Billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman conceded that his big wager on Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX) was "a huge mistake" that has cost his hedge fund firm, Pershing Square Capital Management, "a tremendous amount." Ackman sold his entire stake in Valeant earlier this March, suffering a loss of about $4 billion. He bought the stake in early 2015.
Pershing Square posted losses in 2015 and 2016, largely because of the firm's position in Valeant.