Blue Chips Drift Higher on Jobs Data

FOX Business: The Power to Prosper

The Dow was modestly higher, slipping markedly from session highs, as traders mulled encouraging data on the jobs market and soaring energy prices.

Today's Markets

As of 3:15 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 32.7 points, or 0.24%, to 12,347, the S&P 500 gained 3.3 points, or 0.25%, to 1,329 and the Nasdaq Composite slipped 1.1 point, or 0.04%, to 2,780. The FOX 50 traded higher by 3.1 points to 932.

The Nasdaq OMX Group (NASDAQ:NDAQ) and the IntercontinentalExchange (NYSE:ICE) made a rivaling offer to acquire NYSE Euronext (NYSE:NYX) for a $42.50 a share. Deutsche Boerse, a german-based exchange, initially made an offer to acquire the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange for $9.53 billion in February.

The $11.3 billion proposal by Nasdaq OMX and the IntercontinentalExchange represents a 19% premium to the Deutsche Boerse deal. NYSE Euronext has a valuable derivatives business that makes the company an enticing takeover candidate.

There are still several hurdles Nasdaq OMX and the IntercontinentalExchange have to jump before closing the deal. Indeed, the transaction would require approval from European Union regulators and the majority of Nasdaq OMX, IntercontinentaExchange and NYSE Euronext shareholders, according to a release by the Nasdaq OMX Group.

The labor market showed further signs of improvement in March.  The economy added 216,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate fell from 8.9% to 8.8% -- the lowest level since March 2009. Economists were expecting a gain of 190,000 jobs for the month. The jobs market was slammed by the economic downturn, with the unemployment rate peaking at 10.4% in January 2010.

"The overall trajectory of the economy has improved dramatically over the past two years, but there will surely be bumps in the road ahead," said Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, in a release.

Despite gains in the headline data, average hourly earnings were unchanged on the month, even as energy and food prices have soared -- potentially putting strain on consumers.

The "economy encouragingly continues to add private sector jobs but with wage growth not keeping pace with inflation," wrote Peter Bookvar, managing director at Miller Tabak + Co., in a research note.

A broad swath of consumer-dependent stocks such as retail-giant Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) could be swayed by weakness in the consumer sector.

Also on the economic front, the manufacturing sector continued expanding in March. The Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index ticked slightly lower to 61.2 in March from 61.4 in February.  Readings above 50 indicate expansion in the sector.

In the energy market, oil prices jumped for a second day amid continued geopolitical uncertainty.

Light, sweet crude traded higher by $1.22, or 1.1%, to $107.94.  The price of a gallon of regular gas at the pump is $3.62 a gallon, up from $3.39 last month and $2.80 last year.

NATO forces continue slamming Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces in oil-producing Libya, upholding a U.N. Security Council resolution to protect citizens.  Qaddafi's forces and anti-government rebels have been fiercely fighting, gaining and losing territory by the day.

The situation in Syria has escalated for another day, with reports Syrian security forces fired at protesters in Damascus, killing at least three people, according to a report by Reuters, citing witnesses.

In currency markets, the euro recently edged 0.35% higher against the U.S. dollar and the greenback traded 0.11% lower against a basket of world currencies.

Gold slid $10.40, or 0.76%, to $1,429 a troy ounce.

Corporate News

The "big three" U.S. automakers report March sales figures Friday...

General Motors' (NYSE:GM) total sales were 206,621, up 11% from the prior month.  Strong retail sales, particularly of the Chevrolet Cruz, boosted the monthly results.

Ford (NYSE:F) total sales jumped 19.2% to 212,777 in March.

Chrysler revealed its best total sales results since May 2008.  Strong pickup and sports utility vehicle sales boosted total sales 31% to 121,730 in March.

Elsewhere in in the corporate world... 

Logitech (NASDAQ:LOGI) shares tumbled after the make of computer peripherals cut its earnings outlook for 2011, prompting a slew of downgrades.

Office Depot (NYSE:ODP) issues slid after the company said it would have to restate its second quarter, third quarter and fiscal year 2010 results after the Internal Revenue Service denied its $80 million tax-related claim.

Huntington Bancshares (NASDAQ:HBAN) was upgraded by several ratings companies, prompting shares to trade solidly higher.

Foreign Markets

European markets soared in late trading.  The English FTSE 100 was up 1.7% to 6,009, the French CAC 40 gained 1.6% to 4,055 and the German DAX soared 2% to 7,179.

Asian shares were mixed: the Japanese Nikkei 225 sunk 0.48% to 9,708 and the Chinese Hang Seng jumped 1.2% to 23,802.