Wall Street cuts losses, closes up with techs, materials

Stocks erased a midday drop to end slightly higher on Friday, closing out a volatile week punctuated by mixed signals from the labor market data and growing anxiety over fiscal problems in Europe.

Major indexes turned positive heading into the close, as investors scooped up shares in the technology and materials sectors — two of the worst perforomers during the market’s latest pullback.

“It’s bargain hunting in an oversold market,” said Cleveland Rueckert, market analyst at Birinyi Associates in Stamford, Conneticut. “At least in the short term, selling was overdone.”

Earlier, the major indexes dropped more than 1 percent on the initial interpretation that January’s payrolls data was another sign of a sluggish job market recovery, and concerns about the euro zone’s sovereign debt problems persisted. U.S. [Read the full article]

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The following stocks were among those that moved substantially or traded heavily Friday on the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq Stock Market:

The industrial gas supplier made an unsolicited bid of about $5.1 billion for Airgas Inc. and is willing to go hostile.

The meat producer posted a better-than-expected profit thanks to improving results in its chicken unit and falling costs.

The specialty glass and ceramics maker expects profit to rise moderately in 2010 thanks to rising demand for LCD-TVs.

Lower expenses helped drive the mailing-equipment maker to a higher quarterly profit despite falling sales.

The auto parts supplier’s quarterly profit primarily came from a tax benefit, its sales forecast fell short of expectations.

Cost-cutting and sales promotions lifted the women’s apparel retailer to a better-than-expected quarterly profit. [Read the full article]

E*Trade Financial Corp (NasdaqGS:ETFC – News) will cut trading fees for low-volume customers, the U.S. online brokers said on Friday, making its move in a pricing war that erupted among rivals in recent weeks.

The company said all customers will pay $9.99 or less for a stock or options trade, down from $12.99, starting on Monday. Options trades have an additional 75 cent fee. Highly-active traders will still pay $7.99 per trade, E*Trade said.

The broker will also eliminate annual IRA account fees, and commissions for larger trades. In the second quarter, it will drop all account service fees.

The move, announced late on Friday, comes days after mutual fund giant Fidelity Investments said it planned sharp price reductions and about a month after Charles Schwab Corp (NasdaqGS:SCHW – News), the biggest online brokerage, announced a cut of about $4 per trade. [Read the full article]

U.S. companies’ sales are expected to rise for the first time since the third quarter of 2008, but it may be too soon for investors to cheer the turnaround as proof the economy is about to take off.

The 7 percent estimated increase in fourth-quarter sales for corporations in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index (^SPX – News) is largely tied to gains in the financial sector; without that, sales would be up just 2 percent, Thomson Reuters data showed.

“The good news is we’ve turned the corner…(but) the top-line growth is still slow,” said Howard Silverblatt, analyst at Standard & Poor’s in New York. [Read the full article]

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