U.S. stocks were up in a volatile session on Thursday as oil futures pared their losses and strong job market data helped offset weak earnings reports from companies such as Alibaba and Qualcomm. The confluence of low oil prices and a strong dollar, which is hurting some companies, is distracting investors from what is actually an average earnings season, said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York. Shares in Chinese internet giant Alibaba Group dropped 9 percent to $89.46 after revenue missed expectations, which also pushed down shares in part-owner Yahoo. At 2:16 p.m., the Dow Jones industrial average rose 121.58 points, or 0.71 percent, to 17,312.95, the S&P 500 gained 8.29 points, or 0.41 percent, to 2,010.45 and the Nasdaq Composite added 15.46 points, or 0.33 percent, to 4,653.46.
By Lucia Mutikani WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits tumbled last week to its lowest level in nearly 15 years, adding to bullish signals on the labor market. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 43,000 to a seasonally adjusted 265,000 for the week ended Jan. 24, the lowest since April 2000, the Labor Department said. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 8,250 last week to 298,500. The latest decline in applications for unemployment benefits bolsters views of tightening labor market conditions and comes a day after the Federal Reserve ramped up its assessment of the labor market and the overall economy.
HOUSTON/WILLISTON, N.D. (Reuters) - ConocoPhillips and Occidental Petroleum Corp on Thursday slashed exploration spending plans for this year, as the third- and fourth-largest U.S. oil companies attempt to cope with a steep slide in crude prices. The cuts follow similar steps by rival Hess Corp earlier this week while Royal Dutch Shell , Europe's largest oil company, said on Thursday it would reduce its spending the next three years by $15 billion. In response to the price collapse, oil and gas companies have made drastic cuts to budgets, idled drilling rigs and in some cases, cut jobs. Conoco, which said in December it would cut 2015 spending by 20 percent to $13.5 billion, now expects spending to be scaled back by a further 15 percent to $11.5 billion.
U.S. homeownership fell to a 20-year low in the fourth quarter, but a sharp rebound in the rate at which Americans are setting up home is expected to help drive a pick-up in housing. Household formation, however, more than quadrupled to 1.7 million in the fourth quarter from only 356,000 in the same period in 2013. "The combination of a high share of young adults living in the parental home, falling mortgage rates and loosening credit means that the outlook for household formation is strengthening," said Paul Diggle, a property economist at Capital Economics in London. "Household formation is picking up fast enough to outpace construction and is likely to be channeled in a constructive manner, since rents and home prices continue to rise at a healthy pace," said Stephanie Karol, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts.