Stock futures climb on last day of quarter after reports on unemployment claims, GDP

By Stephen Bernard, AP
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Stock futures climb on drop in unemployment claims

NEW YORK — Stocks are set to end a strong September with more gains Thursday after new reports on unemployment claims and gross domestic product topped expectations.

Thursday’s moves echo what has been driving stocks sharply higher throughout the month: investors are bidding up stocks as economic reports show modest growth that indicates the country is unlikely to fall back into recession.

The Dow Jones industrial average has risen 8.2 percent this month, which puts it in line for its best September performance since 1939.

The Labor Department said Thursday that first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell more than economists had predicted last week. Claims are still at levels that indicate employers aren’t necessarily ramping up hiring. However, claims have consistently fallen in recent weeks, adding to hopes that jobs growth will occur in the near future.

Traders were also upbeat after a slightly higher revision to second-quarter GDP, the broadest measure of the nation’s economic activity. The government said the economy grew at 1.7 percent pace in the second quarter, better than the 1.6 percent pace estimated a month ago.

Growth in the economy isn’t expected to pick up much because consumers have cut back on spending while unemployment remains high. Businesses have kept activity in check because of uncertainty surrounding potential tax changes and costs associated with recently passed health care and financial regulatory reforms.

In corporate news, American International Group Inc. said it has reached a deal to repay billions of dollars it received from the government during the credit crisis. AIG was the largest recipient of bailout money during the crisis.

Ahead of the opening bell, Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 30, or 0.3 percent, to 10,810. Standard & Poor’s 500 index futures rose 2.90, or 0.3 percent, to 1,143.80, while Nasdaq 100 index futures rose 6.25, or 0.3 percent, to 2,015.25.

Despite the recent big gains in stocks, not all traders are convinced about the recovery and are pouring money into safer alternatives like Treasurys.

Bond prices rose Thursday driving interest rates lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell to 2.48 percent from 2.50 percent late Wednesday.

Its yield is often used to set interest rates on mortgages and other loans.

Gold, considered another safe alternative to riskier assets, also rose. Gold jumped to a new record of $1,316.20 an ounce earlier in the day before moving back to $1,314.20 an ounce.

AIG shares rose $4.33, or 11.6 percent, to $41.78 pre-opening trading.

Most European markets erased their losses after the economic reports in the U.S. They had been lower earlier in the day after Spain’s credit rating was slashed by Moody’s Investors Service, adding to concerns about the health of the continent’s economy as many countries struggle with high debt.

Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.5 percent, Germany’s DAX index gained 0.4 percent, and France’s CAC-40 fell 0.1 percent.

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