U.S. shares rise on data; euro falls on ECB outlook

By Daniel Bases

NEW YORK (BestGrowthStock) – U.S. stocks (Read more about the stock market today. ) rose on Thursday as better-than-expected retail sales and a fall in first-time jobless claims pointed to a stabilizing economy, while the dollar gained broadly and the euro fell (Read more about the trembling euro. ) as the European Central Bank said the economic recovery in the 16-member euro zone would be uneven.

U.S. Treasury prices gained on a safety bid for government debt as bond investors focused on a gloomy report on U.S. home sales.

The stronger dollar helped push down oil prices, with crude prices falling almost 1 percent as the greater-than-expected fall in pending sales of U.S. homes cast a shadow on the economic outlook.

February’s monthly sales performance among U.S. retailers, however, was the strongest since just before the recession started in 2007, and was cited as the main impetus for a late-day rally in U.S. equities. The government reported that first-time claims for jobless benefits fell by 29,000 to a seasonally adjusted 469,000 in the latest week.

“The jobless claims and the retail sales were better than the market expected and we also saw some upgrades from analysts,” said Quincy Krosby, market strategist with Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.

“It would suggest to me that traders, especially, are sensing that the non-farm payrolls number would not surprise to the downside tomorrow,” she said.

The government on Friday will release its monthly report on non-farm payrolls, the most closely watched figures on the U.S. labor market. The report is expected to show a loss of 50,000 jobs in February, compared with 20,000 job cuts in January, according to economists polled by Reuters.

At the close, the Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI: ) was up 47.38 points, or 0.46 percent, at 10,444.14. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (.SPX: ) was up 4.18 points, or 0.37 percent, at 1,122.97. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC: ) was up 11.63 points, or 0.51 percent, at 2,292.31.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst (.FTEU3: ) index of leading shares closed up 0.1 percent at 1,036.44, off an earlier six-week high. Gains in the banking sector offset falls in miners as copper prices slipped.

In the commodities markets, U.S. light sweet crude oil settled down 66 cents, or 0.82 percent, to $80.21 per barrel, and spot gold prices fell $7.60, or 0.67 percent, to $1,131.50.

U.S. Treasuries edged higher, as traders bought government bonds to close out hedges, as well as driven by the weak pending home sales report. Benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasuries regained ground, rising 4/32 of a point in price, yielding 3.61 percent.

In Europe, Bund futures hit a session high after the housing data surprise. March Bund futures settled 21 ticks higher at 124.29, having earlier fallen to 123.87, while the 10-year cash yield eased 1.2 basis points to 3.128 percent.

Data showed the euro zone economy barely grew in the last three months of 2009 compared with the previous quarter, with the only driver being exports, which benefit from a weak euro.

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The ECB unveiled new measures for removing the extraordinary stimulus it provided to the economy, undermining the boost the euro received from the market’s strong demand for Greece’s 10-year bond sale, seen as a crucial step in addressing its debt problems.

Although the ECB took a small step toward unwinding some extraordinary support for the economy, it left much of its cash buffer for banks in place.

After the ECB left its benchmark interest rate unchanged at a record low 1 percent for a 10th consecutive month, the ECB president, Jean-Claude Trichet, said at a news conference, “The latest information has also confirmed that the economic recovery in the euro area is on track, although it is likely to remain uneven.”

“The main take-away is that Mr Trichet’s comments so far are consistent with the view that the (ECB) will keep rates at record lows perhaps longer than its U.S. counterpart,” said Joe Manimbo, a currency trader at Travelex Global Business Payments in Washington. “That’s putting some downward pressure on the euro.”

In late U.S. trade, the euro was down 0.88 percent at $1.3578 from a previous session close of $1.3698, while the dollar was up 0.76 percent at 89.10 yen.

The dollar held its gains against a basket of major trading currencies, with the U.S. Dollar Index (.DXY: ) up 0.72 percent at 80.55 from a previous session close of 79.977.

Earlier, Greece’s ability to place a 5 billion euro 10-year syndicated bond was welcome news. It came a day after the government announced draconian measures to help put its finances in order.

Athens needs to borrow 53 billion euros ($72 billion) this year to repay existing debt and cover its huge budget deficit. The cost will be crippling if it has to go on offering such a high premium over benchmark German bonds.

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(Additional reporting by Natsuko Waki and Ian Chua in London, Lucia Mutikani in Washington, Vivianne Rodrigues, Richard Leong and Angela Moon in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)

U.S. shares rise on data; euro falls on ECB outlook