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News that Greece had reached an agreement with private creditors which will help secure the next installment of its bailout package delivered a much needed boost to markets on Thursday. The indices also gained strength from another drop in jobless claims numbers. Benchmarks opened in the green, dropped into the red for a while, and ultimately recouped the losses to settle modestly higher. Technology shares enjoyed decent gains with technology major Apple posting robust gains after reports suggested it will launch the next iPad in early March.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) edged up 0.1% to close the day at 12,890.46. The Standard & Poor 500 signed off yesterday’s trading session at 1,351.95, moving up 0.2%. Technology shares helped the tech-laden Nasdaq Composite Index gain 0.4% and it settled at 2,927.23. The fear-gauge CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) advanced 2.6% to close the day at 18.63. The advancing stocks on the New York Stock Exchange barely beat the decliners, as 49% of the advancing stocks were countered by 48% declining stocks. The remaining 3% of the stocks were left unchanged. Consolidated volumes on the New York Stock Exchange, American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq were 7.3 billion shares, lower than last year's daily average of 7.84 billion.
Greece and its impending debt deal have been weighing on investors for quite some time. In each of the last couple of days, the odds of a Greek debt deal have been improving. European leaders had laid down strict economic measures which have to be adhered to if Greece wishes to receive the next tranche of its bailout package. Amidst these developments, while the nations’ politicians delayed taking a stance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “Time is running out”. On Wednesday, US investors got learnt that Greece's government was preparing a list of economic measures that will help the nation qualify for the next bailout payment.
Finally, Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos announced yesterday that talks between the government and the private creditors had “concluded successfully”. He also said: “This program accompanies the new loan agreement to finance Greece with 130 billion euros”. While Greek political leaders have accepted the painful austerity measures that include wage and pension cuts, the deal is yet to be adopted. Once that happens, the road towards receiving the next installment of the bailout package will likely not challenge Greece with any further hurdles.
On the home front, the jobs market continues to be a source of optimism for investors. The cheers grew louder after the Labor Department reported yet another drop in filing of unemployment benefits. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 358,000 for the week ending February 4, a drop of 15,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 373,000. The drop was also larger than consensus estimates which had projected that initial claims would come in at 365, 000.
The jobs market is one of the key indicators of the health of the economy. Since jobs data been mostly robust since late-December 2011, investors infer that the economy is possibly on the road to a recovery. Meanwhile, the US Department of Commerce released the wholesale inventories figure for December. The report stated: “Total inventories of merchant wholesalers, except manufacturers’ sales branches and offices, after adjustment for seasonal variations but not for price changes, were $473.2 billion at the end of December, up 1.0 percent (+/-0.5%) from the revised November level and were up 10.0percent (+/-1.2%) from the December 2010 level”. Consensus estimates had predicted the inventories to rise 0.4%.
On the earnings front, there was not much to cheer about. A lower-than-expected 2012 forecast from Pepsico, Inc. (NYSE:PEP) dragged the company’s shares down 3.7%. The first quarterly result from Groupon, Inc. (NASDAQ:GRPN) since it was listed was also disappointing. The company reported a loss in its fourth quarter and its shares plunged 13.9%. However, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE:CCE) reported soaring profits that took its shares up 1.5%. Separately, a 26% year-over-year increase in Lorillard, Inc’s (NYSE:LO) fourth quarter earnings helped share prices surge 9.7%.
The technology sector enjoyed decent gains yesterday and the Technology SPDR Select Sector Fund (XLK) inched up by nearly a percent. Tech-giant Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) posted robust gains of 3.5% after reports that a new iPad would be launched in early March began doing the rounds. Among other bellwethers, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), Oracle Corporation (NASDAQ:ORCL), Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) jumped 0.4%, 0.6%, 0.3% and 1.4%, respectively.
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