Bullish Earnings Boost Stocks

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The markets rallied as encouraging reports from major companies outweighed mixed economic data.

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Today's Markets

As of 3:34 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 93.9 points, or 0.77%, to 12179, the S&P 500 climbed 12.9 points, or 1%, to 1310 and the Nasdaq Composite gained 41.3 points, or 1.5%, to 2739. The FOX 50 was up 8.9 points to 922.

Companies such as woman's-apparel-retailer Talbots (NYSE:TLB) and Linux-developer Red Hat (NYSE:RHT) reported better-than-expected results, prompting shares to soar on the day.  Technology heavyweight Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) didn't fare as well, revealing a worse-than-expected outlook for the new fiscal year.

Stocks pared some earlier gains on news a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit Burma, near its border with Thailand and Laos.  An initial report by the Pacific Tsunami Warning center suggests a the quake hit "too far inland and too deep within the Earth" to have caused a destructive Tsunami.

The Commerce Department said durable goods orders slid 0.9% in February, missing economists' estimates for a gain of 1.1%, led by losses in machinery.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell to 382000 in the week ended March 19, from 387000 the week before. The four-week-moving average, which analysts generally consider a more useful metric because it helps mitigate short-run volatility, hit 385250 -- the lowest level since July 2008. Economists generally consider claims under the 400000 level signaling improvement.

The labor market, which was dealt a strong blow by the economic downturn, has been recovering moderately, according to recent data.

The blue chips shrugged off crude hitting its highest level since September 2008, new home sales sinking to record lows and a myriad of melancholy headlines from around the world and rose 0.56% on Wednesday.

Widespread tumult in several oil-producing countries continued shaking energy markets Thursday. Syrian security forces cracked down on protests across the country Wednesday and early Thursday, killing and injuring at least 15 people, according to media reports.

In Libya, forces loyal to leader Muammar al-Qaddafi continued attacking civilians, despite a U.N. mandate.  A coalition, including the U.S. and France, continued firing missiles and launching air strikes in a bid to quell the violence, per the U.N. Security Council resolution.

Barring any damage to key oil ports and facilities, crude production might be offline for the next 12 to 18 months, according to reports by industry analysts.

Light, sweet crude dipped 15 cents, or 0.14%, to $105.60 -- after climbing to the highest levels since September 2008 on Wednesday. Prices at the pump averaged $3.55 for regular nationwide, up from $3.17 last month and $2.82 last year.

The crisis in Japan that was sparked by the devastating earthquake and tsunami took another turn Thursday.  Low levels of radiation was reported in food and water in Tokyo, igniting runs on water supplies.

While there was still extensive damage to infrastructure, companies like Toyota (NYSE:TM) and Nissan were slowly getting factories back online.

In the currency market, the euro gained 0.66% on the U.S. dollar after dipping 0.51% in the prior session on concerns about euro zone sovereign debt. The situation in Portugal was particularly dire, with the chances of the country needing a bailout continuing to rise.

Gold slipped $3.10, or 0.22%, to $1435.

Corporate News 

Toyota (NYSE:TM) is restarting production of three hybrid models after damage to Japanese infrastructure prompted the automaker to halt production at all 18 of its factories.

Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) said it earned $1.98 a share, excluding charges, in its fourth quarter, topping Wall Street's call for $1.85.

Talbots (NYSE:TLB) posted a fourth-quarter loss of 14 cents a share, better than the 18 cent loss analysts were expecting.  Shares jumped more than 25% as a result.

Red Hat (NYSE:RHT) shares soared after the maker of a popular Linux distribution, an alternative to Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Mac OS X, reported its revenue jumped 25% to $244.9 million, from $236 million in the prior quarter.

Walgreens (NYSE:WAG) unveiled plans to acquire Drugstore.com (NASDAQ:DSCM) for $429 million in an all-cash deal.

GameStop (NYSE:GME) revealed fourth-quarter earnings of $1.56 a share, narrowly beating expectations of $1.55 a share.  The video-game retailer also said it expects to open 200 stores in 2011 and see its net sales increasing between 6% and 8% in the following quarter.

Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) was raised to an "outperform" by analysts at William Blair, sending shares of the online retailer sharply higher.

Foreign Markets

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei edged lower by 0.15% to 9435 and the Chinese Hang Seng was up 0.39% to 22915.

European markets were mostly higher: the English FTSE 100 was up 1.5% to 5880, the French CAC 40 jumped 1.4% to 3968 and the German DAX soared 1.9% to 6933.

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