Stocks Open Soft, Wal-Mart sees Pressure

U.S. stocks opened little changed on Thursday, as data had jobless claims hitting a six-week high and housing starts down sharply in April. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lately rose 14.50 points to 15,290.19. The S&P 500 index was up 0.76 points to 1,659.54. The Nasdaq Composite rose 7.61 points to 3,479.23.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) said on Thursday that this quarter would be challenging and gave a forecast that suggests profit  will again miss Wall Street expectations. The company also reported quarterly earnings just below Wall Street estimates, and revenue came in lower than expected. The company forecast earnings of $1.22 to $1.27 per share for its second quarter, which  began on May 1. In the first quarter, same-store sales at Walmart U.S., by far the company’s largest unit, fell 1.4 percent.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose 32,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 360,000, the most since late March. The less volatile four-week average rose just 1,250 to 339,250, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Construction of new U.S. homes dropped in April as far fewer apartments were put up, according to government data released  Thursday that nonetheless signal rebounding activity in the building sector. Housing starts fell 16.5% in April to a seasonally
adjusted annual rate of 853,000.

A plunge in the cost of gas drove down a measure of U.S. consumer prices last month by the most since December 2008. Excluding  the drop in fuel costs, prices were largely unchanged. The consumer price index fell 0.4 percent in April from March, the Labor
Department said Thursday.

Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s on Thursday cut its rating on Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N)(BRKb.N), the insurance and industrial conglomerate controlled by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, by one notch, citing the company’s reliance on its  insurance operations for dividend income.

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