Robust earnings and a sharp drop in initial claims numbers lifted the major indices to a finish in the green. The S&P 500 closed with gains for the fifth consecutive day in a row. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits declined to its lowest level since the middle March. Investors will closely watch GDP advance estimate numbers for the first-quarter of 2013, scheduled to be released on Friday. All ten sectors of the S&P 500 finished higher with materials leading the pack.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) gained 0.2% to close the day at 14,700.80. The S&P 500 rose 0.4% to finish yesterday’s trading session at 1,585.16. The tech-laden Nasdaq Composite Index increased 0.6% to end at 3,289.99. The fear-gauge CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) gained 0.1% to settle at 13.62. Consolidated volumes on the New York Stock Exchange, American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq were roughly 7.0 billion shares, significantly higher than this year’s daily average of 6.38 billion shares. Advancing stocks easily outnumbered the decliners. For the 65% that advanced, 32% declined.
On the earnings front, The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE:DOW) reported its first-quarter results on Thursday. The company’s earnings came in above the Street’s estimates. Profits surged 33% in the first-quarter boosted by strong demand for its seeds and pesticides. The company’s shares jumped 5.6% after the results. However, revenue fell short of the Street’s expectations. Cliffs Natural Resources Inc (NYSE:CLF) also reported first-quarter results after the close of markets on Wednesday. The company’s earnings and revenue both surpassed the Street’s estimates. The company’s shares rocketed 15% yesterday.
The materials sector was the biggest gainer among the S&P 500 industry groups following better-than-expected numbers from Dow Chemical and Cliffs Natural Resources. The materials sector gained 1.1%. Stocks such as E I Du Pont De Nemours And Co (NYSE:DD), Monsanto Company (NYSE:MON), Mosaic Co (NYSE:MOS) and PPG Industries, Inc. (NYSE:PPG) added 1.0%, 1.7%, 1.4% and 1.3%, respectively.
Meanwhile, 3M Co (NYSE:MMM) also released its first-quarter results. Both the company’s earnings and revenue came in below the Street’s expectations. 3M also decreased its 2013 earnings outlook. Shares of the company declined 2.8% following dismal results and projections.
Shares of United Parcel Service, Inc. (NYSE:UPS) increased 2.3% after the company announced its quarterly results. UPS earnings surpassed the Street’s estimates. The company’s better-than-expected earnings report was primarily driven by an increase in e-commerce activities. UPS also said that the company will buy CEMELOG Zrt, a Hungary-based pharmaceutical logistics company.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor reported initial claims numbers. The report revealed that initial claims dropped in the previous week. The drop in initial claims along with better-than-expected earnings guided benchmarks into the green yesterday. According to the report, initial claims decreased 16,000 to 339,000 from the previous week revised figure of 355,000. This was slightly below the consensus estimate of 346,000. The four week moving average decreased 4,500 to 357,500 from the previous week’s revised figure of 362,000.
The Consumer Discretionary sector had a good run ahead of the quarterly results of one of its major companies, Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), which gained 2.2%. Amazon was scheduled to report its results after Thursday’s closing bell. Other stocks such as Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA), The Home Depot, Inc. (NYSE:HD), Target Corporation (NYSE:TGT) and Starbucks Corporation (NASDAQ:SBUX) edged up 0.2%, 0.1%, 1.4% and 1.1%, respectively.