Stock Erase Opening Gains on Mixed Data, ECB Talk

U.S. stocks cleared tentative opening gains on Thursday after U.S. economic data included a less-than-expected rise in retail sales, an increase in unemployment claims and as European Central Bank President Mario Draghi told a news conference debt markets remain subject to the risk of increased tension. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lately fell 3.55 points to 12,445.90. The S&P 500 was up 1.14 points to 1,293.62. The Nasdaq Composite was up 1.26 point at 2,712.02.

Retail sales rose at the weakest pace in seven months in December and first-time claims for jobless benefits moved higher last week, signs the economic recovery remains shaky despite a pick-up in growth.Total retail sales increased 0.1 percent after rising by an upwardly revised 0.4 percent in November, the Commerce Department said on Thursday.

In a separate report, the Labor Department said initial unemployment claims jumped to 399,000 in the first week of 2012, the highest in six weeks, from an upwardly revised 375,000 in the prior week.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said on Thursday that the extensive recourse to the ECB’s first three-year refinancing operation indicates that the central bank’s non-standard policy measures are helping to improve the funding situation of banks.

The Greek government was holding crucial talks with its private investors on Thursday to finally reach a deal on a bond swap that would reduce the country’s debt load and is an integral part of its second bailout package.

Vestas Wind Systems A/S, the world’s biggest maker of wind turbines in terms of revenue, said Thursday it is to layoff 2,335 people worldwide and warned that an additional 1,600 jobs in the U.S. could be at risk if Congress doesn’t extend tax breaks for renewable energy.

Royal Bank of Scotland abandoned ambitions to be a top global investment bank and said it would cut another 4,450 jobs as it bows to pressure from the UK government to shut down risky operations and prepare for tougher international regulations.

Home Depot (NYSE:HD) said it plans to recruit more than 70,000 seasonal workers for the key spring selling season, in line with its hiring last year.

Oil prices rose above $101 a barrel in Asia on Thursday as concerns loomed that a strike in Nigeria and heightened tension in Iran would threaten global oil supplies. Benchmark crude for February delivery rose 61 cents to $101.48 a barrel in late Kuala Lumpur time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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