The Dow bounced around Thursday as Alcoa advanced, while Cisco skidded after comments from CEO John Chambers.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average made several attempts to push into positive territory, each time with little conviction.
The Dow has registered triple-digit moves in nine of the past twelve sessions. And Wednesday's gains saw the Dow wipe out nearly all of the 500-point loss registered last Thursday and Friday, which included the wild intraday swing that's prompted investigations from lawmakers and regulators.
Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell slightly to 444,000, the fourth straight decline, but the prior week was revised higher.
Alcoa was up about 5 percent, leading Dow advancers, after the aluminum maker said it would temporarily halt production at a facility in Italy in an attmept to keep it open long term.
Cisco was the biggest Dow decliner, after leading the pack on Wednesday amid a wave of tech optimism. The company beat analyst expectations on both earnings and revenue but cautious comments from CEO John Chambers rattled the market a bit. Chambers said that the company is emerging from the downturn gaining market share but there is still reason for caution, given the weak job market. He also said he is closely watching events in Europe, which accounts for 20 percent of the company's revenue.
Today, Chambers did a little damage control, saying his cautious remarks were "overinterpreted."
This came after encouraging outlooks from both IBM and Intel on Wednesday. IBM said it expects to earn at least $20 a share by 2015, and Intel said it expects to double its earnings growth in the next few years.
Following in Spain's footsteps, Portugal agreed to tough new austerity measures. This, along with Spain's cuts and the EU/IMF trillion-dollar bailout package helped soothe some worries about the sovereign debt crisis in Europe but some wondered if it will all be enough.
Citigroup said it sees no systemic riskin the banking industry from the euro zone's debt crisis. The bank plans to put more resources into Asia to capitalize on the region's growth.
Financials were among the biggest decliners following news that the New York attorney general was probing eight banksto see if they duped the ratings agencies about the quality of the securities they were offering.
Ford shares rose after CEO Alan Mulally said at the company's annual shareholder meeting that the automaker should be"solidly" profitable this yearand see "continuing improvement" next year.
Rival GM said it will release "solid" first-quarter resultswhen it reports on Monday.
Kohl's beat earnings expectations, helped by a strong recovery in consumer spending and its exclusive product line.
This came a day after Macy'sswung to a profit, hitting its earnings target and narrowly beating revenue projections.
Capital One shares slipped after Macquarie downgraded the stock to "neutral" from "outperform," as the stock drifts toward its $49 price target. The brokerage said it thinks the company is well-positioned but loan-growth prospects remain a concern.
In M&A news, German software giant SAPplans to buy smaller rivalSybase for $5.8 billion. SAP's motive is apparently to acquire technology that delivers software to smartphones.
Several Fed speakers are on the agenda: Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will participate in a Q&A session at an event in Philadelphia at 12:30 pm. Minneapolis Fed President Kocherlakota and Dallas Fed President Fisher are also scheduled to speak during the day.
The Treasury will sell $16 billion in 30-year bonds later, after seeing strong demand at its auctions of 3-year and 10-year notes. The results will be available shortly after 1 pm New York time. Treasurys prices were flat in early trading.
Still to Come:
THURSDAY: Ford, Google shareholder meetings; Fed's Kocherlakota speaks; 30-year auction; earnings from Kohl's, Nordstrom, Nvidia
FRIDAY: Government's retail-sales report; industrial production; consumer sentiment; business inventories; earnings from JCPenney
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