Stocks Seesaw as Traders Eye Oil, Data

FOX Business: The Power to Prosper

The markets bounced between positive and negative territory as traders mulled climbing oil prices and data pointing to continued recovery in the labor market.

Today's Markets

As of 3:35 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1.7 points, or 0.01%, to 12,348, the S&P 500 was up 0.12 point, or 0.01%, to 1,328 and the Nasdaq Composite climbed 5.7 points, or 0.21%, to 2,782. The FOX 50 was off 1.3 points to 932.

The markets have recovered sharply since hitting bottom on March 16 amid concerns over turmoil across the world, particularly in Japan.  Indeed, the broad S&P 500 has rebounded 5.7% since then.

There has been a deluge of economic data this week, showing accelerating economic expansion, but also raising concerns over inflation, consumer sentiment and the housing market. The blue chips have gained 130 points, or 1.1%, on the week on optimism the economy will continue recovering.

Weekly jobless claims dropped from 394,000 to 388,000 in the prior week, according to the Labor Department.  Wall Street was expecting claims to hit 380,000.  The four-week-moving average, which mitigates some short-run volatility, ticked slightly higher to 394,250 from 391,000.  A reading of under 400,000 is generally seen by economists to point to moderate recovery in the labor market that was slammed by the recession.

The monthly employment situation report is slated for release on Friday.  This gauge of the strength of the labor market is considered one of the most important indicators of the strength of the economy.

On the energy front, crude prices have bounced back markedly after falling on Wednesday.

Light, sweet crude jumped $2.45, or 2.4%, to $106.72.  A gallon of regular gas costs $3.61 a gallon at the pump nationwide, up from $3.34 last month and $2.80 last year.

Crude generally trades inversely to the dollar, which sunk 0.35% against  a basket of world currencies.

Also driving oil prices higher is continued violence in Libya, where rebels and forces loyal to leader Muammar al-Qaddafi continue clashing.  A coalition of countries, now led by NATO, has embarked on an air campaign to protect civilians from Qaddafi's military.

The markets are also digesting data from the Federal Reserve on banks lending from the Fed's discount window during the financial crisis in 2008.  During the darkest times of the crisis, it was difficult to gauge the financial strength of even the largest banks, causing banks to virtually stop lending to each other, and forcing them to borrow from the Fed.

"In principle it’s important for the Fed to disclose that information," said Pavlina Tcherneva, a professor of economics at Franklin and Marshall College. "It is important to see who has access to the discount window."

The Fed and banking industry attempted to keep the data private, citing potential bank runs; however, the FOX Business Network and Bloomberg levied lawsuits to make open it to the public.

Banking issues like Citigroup (NYSE:C) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) could be swayed by these data.

Corporate news, including mergers and acquisitions activity and positive earnings, have taken center-stage in recent sessions.

David Sokol, who was widely-considered to be on the short list to ultimately replace Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Warren Buffet, abruptly left the investment company. Sokol purchased shares of Lubrizol before Berkshire acquired the company for $9 billion.

Berkshire Hathaway contends Sokol's stock purchase was not unlawful, however, a source close to the Securities and Exchange Commission told FOX Business an investigation is imminent or has already begun.  Berkshire and the SEC have declined to comment.

In metals, gold climbed $13.20, or 0.92%, to $1,438.

Corporate News

American International Group's (NYSE:AIG) bid to re-purchase its Maiden Lane II Assets from the Federal Reserve was rejected.  The Fed will instead sell them in the secondary markets.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) filed a complaint with European Union anti-trust regulators, alleging Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) unfairly quashed competition in the search business.

Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) shares soared after Morgan Stanley upgraded the maker of high-end electric cars from "equalweight" to "overweight."

Dendreon (NASDAQ:DNDN) got a boost after Medicare chose to cover Provenge, the biotechnology company's prostate cancer drug.

Carmax (NASDAQ:KMX) unveiled earnings of 39 cents a share for the fourth quarter, besting Wall Street's view of 38 cents a share.

Foreign Markets 

European stocks were mostly lower.  The FTSE 100 was down 0.66% to 5,908, the French CAC 40 was off 0.88% to 3,989 and the German DAX edged lower by 0.22% to 7,041.

Asian shares mostly gained on the day.  The Japanese Nikkei 225 was up 0.48% to 9,755 and the Chinese Hang Seng was up 0.32% to 23,528.