Stocks End Mixed Ahead of EU Debt Plan

Stocks closed mixed Thursday after fluctuating wildly for most of the session as traders sifted through a slew of headlines from the euro zone ahead of a key EU summit this weekend.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 37.16 points, or 0.32 percent, to finish at 11,541.78, after bobbing between positive and negative territory throughout the session.

Including today's session, the Dow has alternated directions for 11 consecutive days. This rare occurrence has only happened 5 other times throughout the index's long history, with the last one being back in May 2009.

Intel and Boeing led the blue-chip laggards, while JPMorgan and Alcoa gained.

The S&P 500 edged up 5.51 points, or 0.46 percent, to close at 1,215.39. Meanwhile, the Nasdaq slipped 5.42 points, or 0.21 percent, to end at 2,598.62.

The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, finished above 34.

Stocks were on a rollercoaster ride throughout the session as traders struggle to digest and react to a raft of headlines from the euro zone ahead of the upcoming EU summit on Sunday.

In the most recent development, Germany's Merkel and France's Sarkozy said euro zone leaders will approve a plan by Wednesday at the latest, as they gear up to hold talks ahead of Sunday's meeting.

"This looks like they postponed the meeting for a week," said Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS. "The fear was there was still a deadline and it looked like they weren't going to agree...buying extra (time), the market breathes a little sigh of relief, but I'm not sure that I buy it."

Investors were nervous following news that Germany and France were at odds over how to increase the firepower of the euro zone’s bailout fund.

There were even reports that suggested the possibility of postponing the EU summit planned for this Sunday due to the stalled talks, according to German newspaper Die Welt. The summit had already been postponed from Oct. 17.

However, Austria's finance ministry and some EU senior diplomats denied the report, saying they were not aware of any delays.

“From day to day, there are rumors from Europe on how they’re going to deal with the debt issues and those rumors range from positive to negative,” said Todd Salamone, director of research at Schaeffer's Investment Research. “That speaks to the choppy trading range mentality until we get more clarity on what type of resolution EU leaders are going to make.”

Meanwhile, the Greek Parliament voted to approve to an austerity lawcutting wages and hiking taxes, measures needed to stave off bankruptcy in the debt-ridden nation.

Among earnings, AT&T fell after the wireless carrier missed revenue estimates as subscriber growth declined more than expected.

Meanwhile, Nokia jumped after the troubled cellphone producer posted a smaller-than-expected profit decline, helped by robust sales of simpler models.

Eli Lilly slipped after the drugmaker reported a lower profit, but slightly boosted its full-year earnings forecast.

Microsoft , Chipotle Mexican Grill SanDisk and Seagate Technology are slated to post earnings after-the-bell tonight.

On the economic front, weekly jobless claims fell more than expected, slipping 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 403,000, according to the Labor Department. Economists surveyed by Reuters had expected a drop of 4,000.

Adding to optimism, factory activity in the Mid-Atlantic area unexpectedly rose to 9.7 in October, its highest level since April, according to a Federal Reserve survey. Economists had expected the figure to hit minus 9.0 according to a Reuters poll.

And leading indicators climbed 0.2 percent in September, its fifth consecutive gain, pointing to modest economic improvement in coming months, according to the Conference Board.

However, U.S. existing home sales fell 3 percent to an annual rate of 4.91 million in September, which more than expected, according to National Association of Realtors. Forecasters in a Reuters poll had been looking for a 2.0 percent fall.

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On Tap This Week:

FRIDAY: Fed's Kocherlakota speaks, 2011 Dodd-Frank Rulemaking Deadline; Earnings from GE, McDonald's, Verizon, Honeywell and Schlumberger

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