Stocks poised to push forward

By staff

NEW YORK( -- U.S. stocks poised for modest gains at the open Thursday, boosted by Ford's first full-year profit since 2005, President Obama's pledge to create jobs and the Federal Reserve's outlook for the economy.

Dow Jones industrial average, Standard & Poor's 500 and Nasdaq 100 futures were slightly higher, but lost earlier momentum that was sparked by strong Ford results following disappointing reports on the economy.

Futures measure current index values against perceived future performance and offer an indication of how markets may open when trading begins in New York.

U.S. stocks rose Wednesday after the Fed's policy statement triggered a late-day advance. The Dow added 0.4%, the S&P 500 gained 0.5% and the Nasdaq added 0.8%.

But investors are still showing signs of nervousness and will continue to do so until they witness proof that the economy is truly recovering, said Derek Hoffman, chief executive of Wall St. Cheat Sheet in North Carolina.

"It seems like it's a very reactive environment," said Hoffman, noting that stocks have pulled back at least 5% so far this year. "Earnings and news need to prove to investors that we are out of the woods. So far, we're not seeing that."

Jobs and the economy: Obama said in his State of the Union address Wednesday that jobs were his administration's "No. 1 focus in 2010." The president's plan to spur job growth will revolve around tax incentives for small businesses.

Before the opening bell, teh U.S. government released reports about the job market and durable goods orders.

The Labor Department released itsweekly report on initial jobless claims before the open. The number of people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time totaled 470,000, a decline of 8,000 from the prior week's revised tally.

This was higher than expected. Claims were expected to have totaled 450,000 in the week ended Jan. 23, according to a consensus of economist opinion from

The government also released its monthly report on orders for durable goods, a measure of manufacturing. Durable orders rose 0.3% in December, which was much less than expected. Durable orders were expected to have risen 2% in December, according to consensus.

Companies: Ford (F, Fortune 500) reported its first full-year profit in four years, with net income of $2.7 billion. The automaker said it expects another full-year profit in 2010. The stock rose about 4% in pre-market trading.

Also on Thursday, conglomerate 3M (MMM, Fortune 500) raised earnings expectations for 2010, to a range of $4.90 to $5.10 per share, after beating expectations with its fourth-quarter profit of $1.30 per share. Telecom company AT&T (T, Fortune 500) grew its fourth-quarter earnings to 51 cents per share, matching expectations. Consumer goods company Procter & Gamble (PG, Fortune 500) beat expectations for its most recent quarter with earnings of $1.49 per share.

Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) unveiled its highly anticipated iPad on Wednesday. The unveiling of the tablet computer sent shares of the company on a rollercoaster ride. Apple shares finished Wednesday's session nearly 1% higher, but they've backed off slightly in pre-market trading.

Fed: The Fed's outlook for the economy is also likely to help keep investors upbeat. The Fed held rates steady Wednesday and said the economic recovery was gaining strength.

A Senate vote on the confirmation of Fed chief Ben Bernanke is scheduled for Thursday. Uncertainty surrounding Bernanke's confirmation has hung over investors lately.

World markets: The Fed's outlook on the economy helped global stocks rally. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei jumped 1.6%. Major European indexes all rose at least 1% in midday trading.

Cash and bonds: The dollar was mixed, rising against the euro, flattening against the yen and slipping versus the British pound. The price on the 10-year note rose, pushing the yield down to 3.66%.

Oil and gold: The price of oil rose 43 cents to $74.10 a barrel. The price of gold rose $6.60 per ounce to $1,091.10.

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