* Jobless claims rise less than expected; Philly Fed jumps
* Google, IBM shares fall a day after posting earnings
* Morgan Stanley rallies after results
* Dow up 0.04 pct; S&P 500 up 0.2 pct; Nasdaq up 0.4 pct
(Updates to early afternoon; adds UnitedHealth and Baker
By Rodrigo Campos
NEW YORK, April 17 U.S. stocks advanced slightly
in choppy trading on Thursday after three days of gains, as
underwhelming results from tech bellwethers Google and IBM were
offset by upbeat quarterly numbers, including those from Morgan
Stanley and General Electric.
The latest data showed the U.S. economy's health was
improving. The number of Americans filing new claims for
unemployment benefits rose less than expected in the latest week
and came near pre-recession levels. Factory activity in the U.S.
mid-Atlantic region expanded in April at a faster clip than
anticipated, according to a survey from the Federal Reserve Bank
The combined reported and expected earnings-per-share growth
estimate for S&P 500 components rose to 1.7 percent from
Wednesday's 0.6 percent, Thomson Reuters data showed, indicating
most companies that reported results in the past 24 hours
The technology sector capped the S&P 500's gain, with Google
shares down 3.2 percent at $545.81 and IBM off
3.2 percent at $190.28 after both reported earnings late
Wednesday that failed to impress Wall Street. Their results
raised questions about those of other tech-sector companies.
"The market is digesting the sharp move we've seen this week
and doing its best to ignore the results from IBM and Google,
which didn't look great," said Steve Sosnick, equity risk
manager at Timber Hill/Interactive Brokers Group in Greenwich,
"I'm mostly focused on bank earnings, which have been OK for
the most part, and there haven't been many outliers, which is a
He said moves should be taken with a grain of salt as many
trading desks are short-handed ahead of the long weekend. U.S.
markets will be closed for Good Friday.
Shares of Morgan Stanley, rose 3.6 percent to $30.97
after the financial services company reported a rise in
first-quarter earnings, while Goldman Sachs edged up 0.4
percent to $157.91 after the bank reported an 11 percent drop in
profits but beat expectations.
UnitedHealth Group shares fell 3.2 percent to $75.70
after the largest U.S. health insurer said it has spent more
than $100 million to cover a pricey new hepatitis C drug from
Gilead Sciences, a higher cost than it expected by
"multiples." Shares in the health insurance sector fell on the
news, with WellPoint down 3.4 percent at $92.45.
Questions from U.S. lawmakers on the cost of
that drug prompted a sharp selloff in Gilead in mid-March that
lasted for nearly a month.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 6.84 points or
0.04 percent, to 16,431.69. The S&P 500 gained 4.05
points or 0.22 percent, to 1,866.36. The Nasdaq Composite
added 15.908 points or 0.39 percent, to 4,102.133.
If the indexes hold their gains, the Dow and the S&P 500
will post their largest weekly advance this year.
General Electric posted a 12 percent rise in overall
industrial profits and its shares gained 2.1 percent to $26.67.
Shares of China's Weibo Corp opened slightly below
the $17 pricing of its initial public offering, which was at the
lower end of expectations on concerns about the microblogging
service's slowing user growth. The stock, however, turned
sharply higher and shot up 18.7 percent to $20.18 in afternoon
Western Union shares fell 3.8 percent to $15.44 after
Wal-Mart Stores said it was launching a domestic money
transfer service in partnership with Euronet Worldwide
subsidiary Ria Money Transfer.
Shares of MoneyGram International, which currently
provides money transfer services for Wal-Mart, plunged 15.3
percent to $15.23. Euronet shares rose 5.5 percent to $43.04.
Wal-Mart's stock gained 0.6 percent to $77.71.
Baker Hughes shares hit their highest since August
2011 after the world's third-largest oilfield services company
posted better-than-expected results as revenue in its core North
American business rose nearly 7 percent. The stock climbed 4.2
percent to $69.08 after earlier rising as high as $69.78.
(Additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Bernadette
Baum, Meredith Mazzilli and Jan Paschal)