Stocks made modest gains today ahead of tomorrow's big jobs report for August. The move higher came on the heels of a better than expected report on weekly jobless claims. The Labor Department says there were just 323,000 new claims filed last week. That's the lowest level in nearly five years and below expectations, which were for about 330,000 new claims.
Meanwhile, the ADP payroll report was less spectacular, with a calculation of 176,000 new private-sector jobs created during August. Expectations there had been closer to 180,000. A report from the Institute for Supply Management found the fastest growth in the services sector during August since December 2005. The index rose to 58.6 from 56 for July. Estimates had been for a reading of around 55.
J. C. Penney (JCP) climbed close to 6% on a report that it will part ways with Martha Stewart. The New York Post says current CEO Mike Ullman decided to dump Stewart's line of home goods, because they haven't been selling well. The move comes ahead of a ruling expected soon in a court case involving Stewart's merchandise. Macy's has sued claiming it had exclusive rights to sell products under Martha's moniker. It's unclear how the decision might affect the case. Prior to today's moves, J.C. Penney was up 11% over the week, largely on news that two hedge funds have been buying shares.
BlackBerry (BBRY) gained more than 2% today, adding to a 5% surge at the end of yesterday's regular session. The move higher comes on a report in the Wall Street Journal which said BlackBerry wants to auction itself off by November. The company said last month that it was "exploring strategic alternatives." That statement implied a longer time span for a possible sale than what's being floated now. BlackBerry is down about 8% year to date. But due to its severe losses during 2012, it is actually up 65% over the past year.
Building-products company Louisiana-Pacific (LPX) spiked more than 11% during the regular trading day. LP has announced the acquisition of Canada's Ainsworth Lumber for more than $1 billion. Ainsworth is controlled by Brookfield Asset Management, which has approved the deal. The acquisition is expected to give Louisiana Pacific more access to business in Asia. Prior to announcement of the deal, LP's shares were down 23% year to date.
Fastenal (FAST) rose 6% after reporting year-over-year sales increases for August. The construction supply company says revenues increased 2.5% to $297.7-million despite one less business day this August. The company cited strength in both manufacturing and construction for the gains. Today's move higher put Fastenal in the green for the year. It was previously down 4% for 2013.
Astex Pharmaceuticals (ASTX) climbed another 3% today. It jumped 23% yesterday, mostly in the 1pm hour, on news that it's being acquired by Japan's Otsuka for nearly $900 million. Shares are now up 184% year to date. Astex says it is dedicated to the discovery and development of small molecule therapeutics, with a particular focus on oncology. It has only one approved drug, Dacogen, which treats a blood disorder called myelodysplastic syndromes, but several other treatments are in the pipeline.
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