Blue Chips Rally Following Jobless Claims

Blue chip stocks are broadly higher today following a positive employment report and more earnings releases from some of the nation's largest companies. At roughly halfway through the trading day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is up by 88 points, or 0.64%.

The improving employment picture
A government report out this morning showed that the number of domestic workers who filed applications for unemployment benefits fell to a five-year low last week. According to data from the Labor Department, initial jobless claims declined by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 330,000 in the week ended Jan. 19. By means of comparison, for the comparable week last year, the figure came in at 372,000.

Perhaps even more promising, the number of workers who are currently drawing unemployment benefits fell by 71,000 to 3,157,000. This is equivalent to roughly 2.5% of the number of employed workers paying into the system.

Earnings season marches on
In terms of individual stocks, all the news today revolves around earnings season.

Yesterday saw a handful of blue chip companies announce results from the last three months of 2012. Among others, fast-food giant McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) beat the consensus estimate by $0.05, notching earnings per share of $1.38. The company also reported that same-store sales for the quarter came in at 0.01%. While this figure was only marginally positive, many analysts had expressed concern after the chain's October comps came in negative for the first time since April 2003.

Before the bell this morning, diversified conglomerate 3M (NYSE: MMM  ) reported results that met the consensus estimate for earnings of $1.41 per share. The company was particularly optimistic about China, where sales increased 10% compared to the same three-month period in 2011. 3M also reaffirmed its outlook for the current year, expecting earnings to be in the range of $6.70 to $6.95 per share. According to the company's chairman and CEO Inge Thulin: "Fourth-quarter was a good finish to a successful year for 3M. Our people executed well in the face of challenging macroeconomic conditions and we have built good momentum to innovate and move forward in 2013."

Finally, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) and AT&T report after the closing bell today. To say that it's been a tough year for the former would be an understatement. Shares in the company are down nearly 16% since the middle of March. In today's report, analysts will be watching for two things. First, how well Microsoft's new operating system, Windows 8, did in the holiday season. And second, whether or not consumers have taken to its new tablet, the Surface, which was released at the end of last year.

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