Stocks Pare Gains as Oil Makes Late-Day Jump

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Wall Street trimmed its gains after oil prices shot up in post-settlement trading, but the pull back was restrained by optimism that the U.S. labor market is recovering.

Today's Markets

As of 3:27 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 7.9 points, or 0.06%, to 12960, the S&P 500 gained 5.9 points, or 0.43%, to 1372 and the Nasdaq Composite climbed 19.5 points, or 0.66%, to 2987.

The benchmark crude oil contract traded in New York shot up $2.46, or 2.3%, to $109.57 after settling with a more modest gain earlier. The reason for the sudden upswing could but be immediately confirmed, however, there were reports of a Saudi pipeline explosion, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

Gasoline was largely unaffected: New York Harbor gas settled higher by 0.07% at $3.042 a gallon.

Gold, which plunged $77.10, or 4.3% in the last session, rebounded by $10.90 to $1,722 a troy ounce. U.S. Treasury bond yields pushed higher slightly, with the 10-year rate hitting 2.023% from 1.974%.

Materials shares posted the best performance on the day in a stark contrast to the prior session where they were a major driver downward. Other winners in the broad markets included financial and energy companies.

The economic docket was quite full on the day, with reports from both sides of the Atlantic.

The Labor Department reported initial filings for state unemployment benefits ticked lower to 351,000 last week from 353,000, which was in-line with estimates. The four-week-moving average, which economists generally point to as an important figure because it helps mitigate weekly volatility, fell to its lowest level since 2008 in a sign that the recovery may be a trend as opposed to a blip on the radar.

A a separate report from the Commerce Department showed personal income rose 0.3% in January on a month-to-month basis, while spending increased 0.2%, just below analysts' expectations.

The Institute for Supply Management's gauge of U.S. manufacturing activity fell to 52.4 in February from 54.1 the month prior, suggesting activity is expanding at a slower pace. Economists forecast a reading of 54.5. A separate report showed construction spending fell 0.1% in January from December, a weaker reading than the 1% gain economists were expecting.

The jobless rate in the eurozone unexpectedly lurched to a euro-era high of 10.7% in January  from an upwardly-revised December reading of 10.6%. Economists expected the rate in the 17-member currency bloc to hold steady at an initially reported 10.4%. Meanwhile, inflation was largely unchanged, which may mean the European Central Bank will have more room to maneuver monetary policy to boost the economy there.

Also on the European front, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association ruled that Greece's bailout has not yet constituted a default that would trigger credit default swaps, according to Reuters. The potential triggering of those agreements was a major worry for many analysts since it could have hit the continent's already fragile financial system.

The euro fell 0.11% to $1.331, while the U.S. dollar slipped 0.01% against a basket of six world currencies that are tracked by the dollar index.

Target (NYSE:TGT) unveiled an increase of 7% that beat estimates of 5.2%. Macy's (NYSE:M) jump of 4.6% topped expectations of a gain of 3.5%. Gap (NYSE:GPS) also revealed a big beat, with comparable sales rising 4% against forecasts of a 1% drop. Separately, Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), which doesn't report its sales results on the day, said it plans on boosting its dividend by 9%.

Automakers also release their sales figures for the month of February on the day. Chrysler said its sales soared 40% on a year-over-year basis in its best February since 2008. Ford (NYSE:F) saw its sales increase by 14% on the same basis, while General Motors (NYSE:GM) posted a smaller 1.1% rise.

Foreign Markets

European blue chips rallied 1.5% to 2549, the English FTSE 100 gained 1% to 5931 and the German DAX jumped 1.3% to 6942.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 fell 0.16% to 9707 and the Chinese Hang Seng sold off by 1.4% to 21388.