While you were sleeping: Solid US eco data

Wall Street was mixed, with the Dow Jones slipping from the previous day's record close, as investors awaited the government's monthly employment data due Friday.

In afternoon trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.24 percent, while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index inched 0.04 percent lower. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 0.24 percent. On Wednesday, the Dow closed at a record high 16,580.84.

Declines in shares of IBM and Microsoft, down 1.6 percent and 1 percent respectively, outweighed gains in shares of Merck and Verizon, up 1.4 percent and 0.6 percent respectively, and dragging the Dow lower.

Some of the momentum stocks hammered in recent weeks - Facebook, Netflix and Yelp - rebounded.

The latest data underpinned the US Federal Reserve's comments, made yesterday in a statement at the end of a two-day meeting, that "growth in economic activity has picked up recently." It also helped lower concern about the latest GDP data which had shown earlier this week that the world's largest economy barely grew in the first three months of this year.

US consumer spending rose 0.9 percent in March, the largest increase in more than four years, following a 0.5 percent increase in February, according to the Commerce Department. The Institute for Supply Management's index of national factory activity advanced to 54.9 in April, from 53.7 in March.

"The weakness in growth we saw in the first quarter is not indicative of what is going on in the economy," Gus Faucher, senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group, told Reuters. "The fundamentals continue to look pretty good, the economy has momentum."

Indeed, Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates in St Petersburg, Florida, told Bloomberg News, "the second quarter is going to be much stronger than the first."

To be sure, initial claims for state unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose, climbing 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 344,000 though the caveat in assessing the numbers is that normal business operations were slowed by the Easter and Passover breaks.

A report on Wednesday had shown US private employers added a better-than-expected 220,000 workers in April, the highest number since November.

Friday's report is expected to show nonfarm payrolls increased by 210,000 last month, according to a Reuters survey, following a gain of 192,000 in March. A Bloomberg News poll predicts an increase of 215,000. The jobless rate is forecast to fall to 6.6 percent.

Shares of Yelp jumped, last up 9.2 percent, after reporting solid results, which also helped bolster the appeal of other internet stocks had been beaten down recently.

"When you have a group that has been beaten up over the past month, along with a market that is setting new highs, that's a cue for momentum players to come back into the market," Michael Matousek, head trader at US Global Investors in San Antonio, told Reuters. "Internet is the place to be today."

In Europe, many markets were closed for the May 1 holiday. The UK's FTSE 100 ended with a gain of 0.4 percent from the previous close.

(BusinessDesk)

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