Wall Street rekindles tech-love
Technology bounces back after recent selloff, giving a boost to the overall market; but worries about earnings, jobs report, Fed meeting remain.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Technology stocks snapped back Thursday, boosting the broader market higher, after the previous session's decline and ahead of Friday's pivotal monthly employment report.
As of 5:30 p.m. ET, Nasdaq and S&P 500 stock futures pointed to a modest decline Friday, when fair value is taken into account. However, that could change, depending on the July jobs report, due out at around 8:30 p.m. ET.
The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite (up 13.53 to 2,092.34, Charts) added almost 0.7 percent, bolstered by a surge in semiconductor and Internet shares.
The Dow Jones industrial average (up 42.66 to 11,242.59, Charts) added 0.4 percent and the broader Standard & Poor's 500 (up 1.72 to 1,280.27, Charts) index added 0.1 percent.
The Russell 2000 (up 7.57 to 704.38, Charts) index of small-cap stocks added 1.1 percent.
Treasury prices inched higher, lowering the corresponding yields. Oil and gold prices declined.
Stocks struggled through a tough morning Thursday, but turned around in the afternoon, thanks to a comeback in technology. Stocks gained Wednesday too, following a selloff Monday and Tuesday.
"The techs started breaking out, in particular the chips started moving higher, and that brought the whole market up," said Joseph Saluzzi, co-head of trading at Themis Partners.
Saluzzi said that after having slid on and off for nearly four months, the chip sector was perhaps due for a little rebound. He said that even amid the broad selloff earlier in the week, chips and the tech sector have been holding up better than the rest of the market.
Year to date, the tech-fueled Nasdaq composite had fallen 5.7 percent and the semiconductor index had fallen around 15 percent, by Wednesday's close.
By comparison, the Dow industrials, Nasdaq composite and Russell 2000 small-cap index had all gained between 2.5 percent and 4.5 percent by Wednesday's close.
Focusing on jobs, the Fed
Investors may have also been reassured by the morning's weaker-than-expected economic reports, in that weaker reports are seen as evidence to some investors that the Federal Reserve can pause in its interest-rate hiking campaign.
Yet, "that could all change tomorrow," Saluzzi said, referring to Friday's July employment report, the last big piece of economic news before next week's Federal Reserve meeting on interest rates.
The central bank has raised its Fed funds rate, an overnight bank lending rate, 17 straight times since June 2004, from 1 percent to 5.25 percent. Investors are unsure as to whether another quarter-point rate hike is on tap for the next policy meeting Aug. 8.
Because of this uncertainty, Friday's employment report is seen as particularly important. Employers are expected to have added 145,000 jobs to their payrolls last month, while the unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 4.6 percent.
A report that is notably weaker than estimates would add to bets that the Fed can pause next week. A report that is notably stronger would add to the belief that the Fed will boost rates again.
"There is enough evidence in the report that it could actually tip the Fed to move," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank. "Expectations now are still that they probably will pause, but that could change."
Traders are now betting there's a 43 percent chance that the central bank will boost rates another quarter point next week, up from a 38 percent probability late Wednesday, according to futures contracts traded in Chicago.
Among tech movers, chips rallied. The Philadelphia Semiconductor (up 6.27 to 415.03, Charts) index added 1.5 percent, with 16 out of 19 components rising. The biggest gainers were National Semiconductor (up $1.34 to $24.18, Charts) and Advanced Micro Devices (up $0.85 to $20.45, Charts).
Internet stocks gained as well, with the Goldman Sachs Internet (up 3.39 to 159.71, Charts) index rising 2.3 percent, with 12 out of 14 issues rising. Component eBay (up $1.08 to $24.07, Charts) jumped 4.7 percent and Google (up $8.16 to $375.39, Charts) added 2.2 percent.
Yet, gains weren't limited to the tech sector.
Airlines, railroads and trucking firms - many of which have been hit hard amid the run up in fuel prices - also enjoyed a bounce back.
The Dow Jones Transportation Average (Charts) gained 2.6 percent, with all 20 of its components rising, led by Continental Airlines (up $2.02 to $27.50, Charts), which added nearly 8 percent.
Stocks in the hard-hit housing sector also recovered. The Philadelphia Housing (Charts) sector index jumped 3.2 percent.
Not all the news was so rosy, though. The session also brought a slew of discouraging earnings reports and forecasts.
Although the earnings didn't seem to sway the overall market, individual stocks were "getting tattooed" on the results, Ablin said.
Sprint Nextel (down $2.38 to $17.75, Charts) reported quarterly earnings fell from a year earlier due to charges related to its merger with Nextel. The company also reported quarterly revenue and subscriber growth that missed analysts' estimates, as well as lowering its outlook for the full year.
Sprint shares tumbled 11.8 percent and were the most actively traded issue at the New York Stock Exchange.
Late Wednesday, Medtronic (down $6.61 to $44.32, Charts) warned that fiscal first-quarter sales and earnings will miss estimates, due to a slowdown in the market for implantable devices that regulate erratic heart beats. Shares of the medical device maker lost 13 percent in unusually active New York Stock Exchange trading.
Shares of rivals Boston Scientific (down $1.35 to $16.27, Charts) and St. Jude Medical (down $4.12 to $33.70, Charts) slumped, too, amid worries that the slowdown in sales will hurt their businesses as well.
Ford Motor (down $0.10 to $6.86, Charts) said its second-quarter loss was actually more than twice as much as what it initially reported, and that its luxury unit won't be profitable this year. Separately, the company also said it was recalling 1.2 million cars and trucks. Shares fell 1.4 percent.
A number of retailers released July sales for stores open a year or more, also called same-store sales, and results were mixed.
Starbucks (down $2.66 to $30.64, Charts) reported July same-store sales late Wednesday that missed expectations, overshadowing its otherwise upbeat earnings report. The stock slumped 8 percent Thursday and was among the Nasdaq's most-actively traded issues.
But shares of teen retailer American Eagle Outfitters (up $2.53 to $33.93, Charts) jumped 8 percent after the company reported sales that rose 7 percent from a year earlier.
Economy shows more signs of slowing
In economic news, June factory orders rose a smaller-than-expected 1.2 percent, after rising 1 percent in May, the government reported. The Institute for Supply Management's service sector index for July also missed estimates, dropping in the month.
An earlier report showed that the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment rose last week by more than expected.
U.S. light crude oil for September delivery fell 35 cents to settle at $75.46 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Treasury prices rose modestly, lowering the yield on the benchmark 10-year note to 4.95 percent from 4.96 percent late Tuesday. Bond prices and yields move in opposite directions.
In currency trading, the dollar rose versus the euro and the yen.
COMEX gold for December delivery sank $7.10 to settle at $657 an ounce.