Ahead of the opening bell, investors had a bevy of corporate and economic news to parse through. Those morning reports included planned job cuts, private sector jobs and initial unemployment claims, in a prelude to the government's monthly jobs report on Friday.
First, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported the number of planned job cuts surged to a five-month high of 47,724 in October. That was a 41% increase over the prior month.
But two other reports were positive. Payroll processor ADP reported U.S. private-sector employers added 158,000 jobs in October. That topped the 143,000 prediction from analysts polled by Briefing.com. Weekly initial jobless claims fell by 9,000 to 363.000 last week. That came in lower than the 375,000 filings expected.
The other reports on tap for Thursday span a wide variety of economic sectors: manufacturing, consumer confidence, construction spending and auto sales.
The corporate world is also busy Thursday. Exxon Mobil (XOM)reported better-than-expected earnings in the morning, while AIG(AIG)Starbucks(SBUX), and LinkedIn(LNKD) are among the firms due to report after the closing bell.
U.S. stocks ended a weak month on a mixed note Wednesday, the first day of trading after the two-day Sandy-related closure.
Companies: Netflix(NFLX)shares retreated 2.4% in premarket trade, after a massive 14% runup Wednesday. The gains came after famed corporate raider Carl Icahn disclosed he bought a 10% stake in Netflix, and strongly hinted he'd like a larger company to buy the streaming video and DVD service.
Japan-based Panasonic(PC) released an earnings report Thursday that was full of bad news. The electronics company posted a loss, dramatically lowered its forecast for the year, and announced it will suspend its dividend. Business conditions are expected to become "much more severe."
Also in Japan, Sony(SNE) reported a narrower loss for its fiscal second quarter and reaffirmed its full-year forecast for a swing to profit. Its U.S.-traded stock was up 1.8% premarket.
Shares of Ford(F) rose slightly in premarket trading after the company announced that Alan Mulally would remain president and CEO through at least 2014, and named Mark Fields as chief operating officer.
Shares of Visa(V) gained 2% in premarket trade after its Wednesday earnings report topped analysts' estimates. Sirius(SIRI) also gained in premarket trade after the satellite radio company reported its new subscriber sign-ups were strong last quarter.
Pfizer(PFE) slipped 1.5% after it reported quarterly revenue that fell far below analysts' estimates.
China's government reported earlier in the day that its official purchasing manager's index jumped to 50.2 in October, from 49.8 the previous month. Any reading above 50 indicates that factory conditions are improving in the manufacturing sector.
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Currencies and commodities:The dollar fell versus the British pound and the euro, and it gained against the Japanese yen.
Oil for December delivery was near flat at $86.17 a barrel.
Gold futures for December delivery jumped 0.3%, to $1,723.50 an ounce.
Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury edged lower, pushing the yield up to 1.71% from 1.69% late Wednesday.