Stocks Waver As Economic Data Offsets Moody Warning

U.S. stocks were mixed in early trading on Thursday as concerns about a possible downgrade of global banks by Moody’s were offset by upbeat U.S. data on the labor and housing sectors.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average lately rose 34.85 points to 12,815.80. The S&P 500 Index was up 1.65 points at 1,344.88. The Nasdaq Composite was up 3.46 points to 2,919.29.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week to a near four-year low. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000, the Labor Department said, the lowest level since March 2008.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that builders broke ground on a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 699,000 homes in January. That’s up 1.5 percent from December and nearly matches November’s three-year high for starts. Construction began work on 508,000 single -family homes last month. That’s a 1 percent drop from December and the first decline in four months.

Producer prices outside food and energy recorded their largest increase in six months in January. The Labor Department said on Thursday its seasonally adjusted core producer price index rose 0.4 percent last month, the largest gain since July, after increasing 0.3 percent in December.

Moody’s warned on Thursday it may cut the credit ratings of 17 global and 114 European financial institutions in another sign the impact of the euro zone government debt crisis is spreading throughout the global financial system.

General Motors Co posted a weaker-than-expected fourth-quarter profit as disappointing performance overseas offset strong results in North America. Net income attributable to common shareholders was $500 million, or 28 cents a share, compared with $500 million, or 31

cents a share, in the year-ago quarter. Excluding one-time items, GM earned 39 cents a share. Sales in the quarter rose 3 percent to $38 billion.

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