Blue-chip stocks have regained their momentum today despite news that more Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week than economists had expected. With roughly an hour left in the trading session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) is up by 43 points, or 0.3%.
According to the Department of Labor, the number of applicants for jobless benefits increased by 16,000 last week compared to the previous week. The advance figure for the seven days ended March 23 was 357,000 -- the highest level since mid-February and above the consensus forecast by 18,000 claims.
Analysts are nevertheless cautioning against reading too much into these figures, given the week-to-week volatility inherent in the estimate. As one analyst quoted by MarketWatch.com observed, "It would take more readings in this neighborhood to point to a modest pick in layoffs." He went on to say that "the claims data continue to signal a slowing in the rate of job layoffs in the first quarter of 2013."
In addition to this, new data from the Department of Commerce suggests that the economy expanded in the final three months of last year at a faster pace than originally estimated. In its first release of fourth-quarter GDP growth at the end of January, the government said the economy actually contracted by 0.1% due to dramatic cuts in military spending. This figure was revised upward last month to a positive 0.1%. And today, that figure was revised up once again to 0.4%.
As the official press release explained, "The GDP estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the 'second' estimate issued last month."
Despite the disappointing jobs figures, however, stocks are broadly higher as we enter the final hour of trading. At the time of writing, only nine of the Dow's 30 component stocks are trading lower.
Leading the way higher are shares of United Technologies (NYSE: UTX ) , the industrial conglomerate that makes everything from Otis elevators to Sikorsky helicopters. As my colleague Dan Carroll noted earlier, the company recently sold an electrical power systems unit that it had acquired from Goodrich. The deal was worth an estimated $400 million and "was the second divestment of a Goodrich unit since [United Technologies] purchased the company for more than $16 billion last year."
Heading Dow shares lower, alternatively, is JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) , the nation's largest bank by assets. Earlier today, The Wall Street Journal reported that a longtime JPMorgan veteran is leaving the company. The news comes on the heels of a string of troubles for the lending giant related to massive trading losses and even its purported role in the Bernie Madoff case.
With big finance firms still trading at deep discounts to their historical norms, investors everywhere are wondering if this is the new normal or if finance stocks are a screaming buy today. The answer depends on the company, so to help you figure out whether JPMorgan is a buy today, I invite you to read our premium research report on the company today. Click here now for instant access!