US stocks move higher on company earnings, labor market news; Energy stocks slide


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Major U.S. stock indexes moved higher in late-afternoon trading Thursday, on track to snap a two-day losing streak. Investors cheered the latest crop of corporate earnings and encouraging labor market data. Energy stocks were among the biggest laggards, as oil prices extended their slide.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average gained 150 points, or 0.9 percent, to 17,342 as of 3:06 p.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 11 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,013. The Nasdaq composite added 24 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,662.

THE QUOTE: "We've had a bit of a turnaround since the lows we saw earlier in the day," said Anastasia Amoroso, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Funds. "It appears earnings outside of energy (stocks) have been rather strong."

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 12 cents to $44.34 a barrel in New York. The contract lost $1.78 on Wednesday to close at $44.45, after the Energy Department reported that U.S. oil inventories rose to their highest levels ever recorded.

ECONOMIC BELLWETHER: The U.S. government reported that weekly claims for unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest level in almost 15 years last week, a sign that hiring will likely remain healthy. That could bolster the case for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates from near zero sooner, rather than later, said Doug Cote, chief market strategist for Voya Investment Management.

"The market is reacting to the Fed being intent on normalizing interest rate policy, and today's numbers added to that pressure," Cote said.

Higher interest rates tend to make stocks less attractive in comparison to bonds.

SECTOR WATCH: Nine of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 rose, and safe-harbor utilities gained the most. Energy stocks were the biggest decliners. The sector is down 6.3 percent this year. Qualcomm notched the biggest drop among stocks in the S&P 500, shedding $6.85, or 9.6 percent, to $64.17. Harman International Industries led among the gainers, rising $21.87, or 21.6 percent, to $122.85.

EARNINGS: Ford, Harley-Davidson, Coach and Ally Financial were among the companies that reported quarterly financial results that exceeded Wall Street's expectations.

HOMEBUILDER RALLY: Several homebuilders surged after PulteGroup reported that completed home sales increased 7 percent in the October-December quarter. PulteGroup climbed $1.27, or 6.2 percent, to $21.85. Rival Ryland Group led the sector, climbing $2.83, or 7.7 percent, to $39.50.

HAPPY MEAL: McDonald's stock climbed 5 percent following news late Wednesday that CEO Don Thompson is stepping down. The world's biggest hamburger chain has been struggling to hold onto customers amid intensifying competition and changing attitudes about food. The news pushed the stock up $4.42 to $93.20.

ALIBABA ALARM: A scathing report by regulators in China claimed e-commerce giant Alibaba failed to prevent fake goods from being sold on its websites. Further muddying the water was a disclosure that the report was delayed to avoid affecting Alibaba's $25 billion New York stock market listing. Meanwhile, Alibaba reported adjusted fourth-quarter earnings that beat expectations as its user base continued to grow and shoppers bought more on mobile phones. The stock fell $8.28, or 8.4 percent, to $90.18.

ALL ABOUT OIL: ConocoPhillips posted a loss for the fourth quarter, hurt by falling oil prices. The company said it will cut spending on drilling and exploration projects in parts of the U.S. Its shares fell 4 cents to $62.54. Valero Energy and Phillips 66 fared better, delivering fourth-quarter earnings that topped Wall Street's expectations. Valero's shares added 19 cents to $51.70, while Phillips gained $1.55, or 2.3 percent, to $69.92.

ROUGH SEAS: Shares in Royal Caribbean Cruises slid 5.2 percent after the cruise operator reported fourth-quarter results and an outlook that missed Wall Street expectations. The stock shed $4.22 to $77.58.

NO DEFENSE: Raytheon delivered a 2015 profit forecast that fell short of Wall Street estimates. Shares in the maker of Tomahawk cruise missile and other weapons and communication systems slid $2.81, or 2.7 percent, to $101.78.

CRAVING KRAVE: Hershey, maker of Reese's, Kit Kat and Twizzlers, said it has agreed to buy jerky maker Krave Jerky for an undisclosed sum. Shares in Hershey fell $5.89, or 5.5 percent, to $101.76.

BONDS: U.S. government bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.76 percent from 1.72 percent late Wednesday.

AP Business Writer Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo contributed to this story.

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