By Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 23, 2009 5:32 PM
Stocks gained ground this afternoon, rallying after an up-and-down day of trading that reflected uncertainty over new government and industry data showing continued weakness in the labor and housing markets.
The Dow Jones industrial average, an index of 30 blue-chip stocks, was up 0.89 percent, or 70.49 points, by today's close, while the broader Standard & Poor's 500-stock index gained 0.99 percent, or 8.37 points, to close at 851.92. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index was up 0.37 percent, or 6.09 points, closing at 1,652.21.
The number of workers requesting initial unemployment benefits rose by 27,000 to 640,000 last week, according to government data released this morning. That was a bigger increase than expected by some analysts. The total number of workers on unemployment rose to 6.1 million.
"Claims will send an important signal about the recession in the next few weeks," Abiel Reinhart, an analyst for J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, said in a research note.
Investors have been watching for signs that parts of the economy are stabilizing. That was bolstered last month by better than expected housing and durable goods data. But the housing market remains weak, according to data released this morning by the National Association of Realtors.
Sales of existing homes, including townhouses and condos, fell 3 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.57 million units. Median home prices fell 12.4 percent to $175,200 compared with the same period last year, according to the Realtors group.
Apple was up 3.2 percent by today's close after reporting better-than-expected earnings yesterday after the markets closed, an encouraging sign for consumer spending. Other earnings reports were less heartening: United Parcel Service reported than its first-quarter profits fell by more than 50 percent. Its stock closed down 2.59 percent today.
Overseas markets were mixed. London's FTSE was flat, down 0.3 percent, while the Dax in Germany was down 1.2 percent. Japan's Nikkei gained 1.4 percent.