Stocks stage late advance

Wall Street manages gains after choppy session. Weak existing home sales report disappoints. Corporate earnings in focus, too.

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By Alexandra Twin, senior writer

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NEW YORK ( -- Stocks staged a late-session rally at the end of a turbulent day, influenced by a weak housing market report, a mix of corporate results and the latest for the automakers.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) added 70 points, or 0.9%. The S&P 500 (SPX) index gained 8 points or 1%. The Nasdaq composite (COMP) gained 6 points, or 0.4%.

After the close, Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) reported lower-than-expected quarterly sales on weaker earnings that met estimates.

Dow component American Express (AXP, Fortune 500) reported weaker quarterly earnings that topped estimates, sending shares almost 7% higher in extended-hours trading.

Biotech Amgen (AMGN, Fortune 500) reported weaker-than-expected quarterly sales and earnings after the close. (AMZN, Fortune 500) reported higher quarterly sales and earnings that topped estimates.

Dow component 3M (MMM, Fortune 500) is due to report results before the start of trade Friday. Honeywell (HON, Fortune 500), Schlumberger (SLB) and Xerox (XRX, Fortune 500) are also due to report.

Also Friday, the Commerce Department releases the March durable goods orders report and the Census Bureau releases the March new home sales report.

Stocks are down for the week as investors have retreated after a six-week advance that propelled the S&P 500 nearly 29%. Stocks zigzagged Thursday as investors sorted through the profit reports and economic news.

"The market is trying to determine whether we've come too far, too fast and it's been getting some mixed signals," said Christopher Colarik, portfolio manager at Glendmede.

"Incrementally, we are getting some economic and earnings reports that are less bad, if not good," he said. "But it might be a two-steps-forward, one-step-back kind of thing, like with the housing data."

Automakers: General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) said in the afternoon that it plans to temporarily shut down 13 of 20 North American plants this summer in order to reduce its inventory. The company has been hit hard by the recession and slowdown in auto demand and has until June 1 to cut its debt and labor costs or face Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Shares fell 4%.

Chrysler is reportedly set to enter Chapter 11 as soon as next week, The New York Times reported Thursday. The Treasury Department is overseeing the process, which will reportedly protect union members' pensions and retiree health care benefits.

Italian carmaker Fiat will complete its acquisition of a 20% stake in the company while it is under bankruptcy protection.

Housing: March existing home sales fell to a 4.57 million unit annual rate from a 4.71 million rate in February, the National Association of Realtors said. Economists surveyed by thought sales would fall to a 4.65 million unit annual rate.

The report countered bets that the housing market is nearing a bottom. Such bets were sparked by February housing market reports that showed smaller-than-expected declines in sales and productions.

Movers: Chevron, Exxon Mobil and McDonald's were among the Dow advancers. IBM (IBM, Fortune 500), Home Depot (HD, Fortune 500) and DuPont (DD, Fortune 500) were among the losers.

Chipmakers Intel (INTC, Fortune 500), Applied Materials (AMAT, Fortune 500) and Xilinx (XLNX) dragged on the Nasdaq, while eBay and Fifth Third Bancorp were among the advancers.

Market breadth was mixed. On the New York Stock Exchange, winners topped losers three to two on volume of 1.57 billion shares. On the Nasdaq, decliners topped advancers eight to five on volume of 2.49 billion shares.

Results: Among the companies reporting results Thursday, regional bank Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB, Fortune 500) reported a narrower-than-expected quarterly loss. Shares gained 3.5%.

PNC (PNC, Fortune 500) reported higher quarterly profit due partly to its purchase of National City. Shares gained 7.5%.

eBay (EBAY, Fortune 500) reported lower quarterly sales and earnings that topped forecasts Wednesday, sending shares 12.5% higher Thursday.

Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) reported higher quarterly sales and earnings that topped estimates late Wednesday, sending shares 3% higher Thursday.

On the downside, UPS (UPS, Fortune 500) reported earnings and revenue that slumped versus a year ago due to the recession. Shares missed analysts' estimates. The stock fell 2.8%.

Jobs: The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment rose last week to 640,000 from a revised 613,000 the previous week, topping economists' estimates.

Bonds: Treasury prices slipped, raising the yield on the benchmark 10-year note to 2.91% from 2.94% Wednesday. Treasury prices and yields move in opposite directions.

Lending rates were mixed. The 3-month Libor rate fell to 1.09% from 1.10% Wednesday, according to The overnight Libor rate dipped to 0.20% from 0.21% Wednesday.

Other markets: In global trading, Asian markets ended higher and European markets ended lower.

In currency trading, the dollar fell versus the euro and the yen.

U.S. light crude oil for June delivery settled up 77 cents to $49.62 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

COMEX gold for June delivery rose $14.10 to settle at $906.60 an ounce. To top of page

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