Stocks Open Higher; Lehman Recovers

Stocks rallied Thursday after a better-than-expected jump in retail sales and a bid by Belgium-based brewer InBev for Budweiser-maker Anheuser-Busch.

"The market is pretty oversold right here, so any bit of good news is giving it at least a short-term pop," Matt McCall, president of Penn Financial Group in Denver, told Reuters.

Lehman Brothers shares recovered from an earlier plunge but remained wobbly following news that CFO Erin Callan and operating chief Joseph Gregory were ousted from their high-level positions at the struggling brokerage firm. Both had publicly smacked away rumors that the firm was financially unstable as the stock came under attack from short sellers; this week news broke that Lehman would take a bigger loss than expected and that it was raising $6 billion in fresh capital. There were murmurs that it might even need to raise more. The stock closed the prior session at a six-year low.

Ian Lowitt will succeed Callan as CFO and Herbert "Bart" McDade was named president and operating chief. Callan was expected to rejoin Lehman's investment-banking unit; Gregory was also expected to remain at the firm in lower-level positions.

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ADRs of InBev jumped amid enthusiasm for the Anheuser-Busch deal. If it goes through, the deal would be the biggest takeover in the beer industry ever. However, analysts say InBev, which makes Stella Artois and Beck's beers, will probably raise the price from the initial $65 a share it was offering for Anheuser-Busch .

This is the second big M&A announcement this week: Staples on Tuesday confirmed its plans to buy Dutch office supplier Corporate Expressfor $2.6 billion.

Merger news tends to juice the market but not everyone was convinced this is cause for investment celebration.

The Anheuser-Busch deal "kind of makes you feel good and makes you want to do some buying, but I see it as a very short term effect. It's more of a strategic move," McCall said.

Retail sales rose 1 percent -- twice the gain expected -- in May, boosted by the government-rebate checks. Excluding gasoline, sales still rose by a robust 0.8 percent. Excluding autos, sales rose 1.2 percent, the biggest rise in six months.

In other economic news, jobless claims rose by 25,000 last week, much more than expected. The four-week moving average rose 2,500 to 371,500. Continuing claims, which reflects the number of people remaining on unemployment benefits, rose to 3,139,000, the highest since early February.

US import prices jumped 2.3 percent, as expected, in May, capping the biggest three-month increase in more than 17 years due to surging energy prices. Export prices rose just 0.3 percent, which was less than expected.

Business inventories rose 0.5 percent in April following a 0.2 percent increase in March.

Oil , meanwhile, skidded $3 a barreland was trading between $133 and $134 a barrel.

Financials were again in the spotlight.

Shareholders of American International Group are asking for changes to the management and board of the world's largest insurer, which has been struggling with the fallout of the subprime mortgage mess.

In a blow to Citigroup Chief Executive Vikram Pandit, the bank plans to close a hedge fund he co-founded and will buy what is left of its assets, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The recovery for banks is still a long way off, despite their efforts to raise capital, Meredith Whitney, executive direct of equity research at Oppenheimer & Co, said. Whitney said all bank dividends are at risk.

Like an instant prophecy, KeyCorp cut its dividend in half and said it plans to raise $1.5 billion in fresh capital.

In a sign the tide may be turning, however, Morgan Stanley upgraded its rating on financial stocks and downgraded its rating on the energy sector.

Still to Come:

THURSDAY: Natural-gas inventories
FRIDAY: CPI, consumer sentiment