Stocks Flip-Flop; Bernanke Speech Awaited
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The markets swung between positive and negative territory on Thursday as market participants mulled a slew of economic developments from around the world, and awaited a speech by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.
As of 12:10 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 23.2 points, or 0.2%, to 11,392, the S&P 500 slid 3.4 points, or 0.28%, to 1,195 and Nasdaq Composite slumped 1.5 points, or 0.05%, to 2,548. The FOX 50 fell 0.62 point to 861.
Trading has been tumultuous in recent days; indeed, the Dow has made triple-digit moves for the last four-straight sessions. The blue chips soared 275 points on Wednesday, snapping a sharp losing streak. The slowing pace of economic expansion, and fears that the economy could dip back into recession territory, has been one of the major themes that has incited the high level of volatility.
The week has been light so far in economic data releases, but Thursday is expected to be a fairly busy day on that front.
The European Central Bank held interest rates steady at 1.5%, halting a five-month tightening cycle as growth fears have overshadowed inflation concerns. The decision was anticipated by economists.
Weekly jobless claims rose 2,000 to 414,000 in the prior week, higher than the 405,000 economists expected. The level of jobless claims has been hovering around the 400,000-mark for weeks, which is points to anemic growth in the labor market, according to economists. This report is the first piece of labor-market data released following the dismal monthly employment report that showed the economy added no net jobs in August.
President Barack Obama will unveil his plan to jump-start the jobs market before a joint session of Congress on Thursday night. The plan, which will reportedly include $300 billion in tax cuts and federal spending, has been the subject of heated political debate, and is likely to be watched closely by market participants.
The trade deficit fell 13.1% in July to $44.9 billion, well below estimates of $51 billion, but still the highest in nearly 18 months. Imports fell 0.2%, while exports jumped 3.6%. The reduction in imports was strengthened by falling oil prices.
While the report lags behind considerably, it figures directly into calculations of broader economic expansion. The higher the deficit, the more it drags from Gross Domestic Product. In fact, Barclays Capital said in a note to clients issued after the release that the data pushed its tracking estimate of third-quarter growth up half a percentage point above its published forecast.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is set to make a speech at 1:30 p.m. ET. Traders will be looking closely for signs that the central bank may be mulling an additional round of economic stimulus in light of growing economic headwinds.
The Fed's policymaking board is meeting for two days starting on September 21 to discuss what measures, if any, it should take to boost growth. The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday night that it is considering unconventional steps.
Energy markets were higher. Light, sweet crude gained 54 cents, or 0.59%, to $89.87 a barrel. Wholesale RBOB gasoline rose less than a penny to $2.91 a gallon.
Gold leaped $37.60, or 2.1%, to $1,854 a troy ounce. The precious metal has fluctuated considerably in recent sessions and equities have gyrated violently.
The English FTSE 100 fell 0.19% to 5,309, the French CAC 40 rose 0.05% to 3,075 and the German DAX slipped 0.12% to 5,399.
In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 gained 0.34% to 8,793 and the Chinese Hang Seng slumped 0.67% to 19,913.