Stocks Push Higher on Wal-Mart Forecast, Economic Data

Stocks rose in early trading and bond prices fell Thursday after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) raised its profit forecast and stock markets overseas put up sizable gains.

Stock futures, which had been higher all morning after strength in Asian and European markets, received a boost after investors began receiving upbeat corporate data as well as economic figures showing a rise in import prices and a decline in weekly unemployment claims.

In the first hour of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 87.95, or 0.62 percent, to 14,166.64, moving past the record close of 14,164.53 set on Tuesday and reaching a new trading high of 14,168.03.

Broader stock indicators also rose. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 9.54, or 0.61 percent, to a new trading high of 1,572.01; it also surpassed the record close of 1,565.15 it had on Tuesday. The Nasdaq composite index rose 14.41, or 0.51 percent, to 2,826.02.

Bonds fell sharply following the economic data, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.70 percent from 4.65 percent late Wednesday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

Light, sweet crude rose 92 cents to $82.22 in premarket electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average closed up 1.64 percent after a rating agency upgraded the country's debt. Stocks in Europe also rose amid upbeat sentiment about access to credit and after Telefonica SA, the Spanish telecommunications company, said it would pay a one euro dividend. In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 1.10 percent, Germany's DAX index advanced 0.70 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 0.49 percent.

In economic news, the U.S. trade deficit fell to its lowest level in seven months -- a much better reading than Wall Street expected -- amid record sales of American products. Several high-profile recalls dented imports from China.

The Commerce Department said the deficit declined to $57.6 billion in August, down 2.4 percent from the July imbalance.

Exports rose 0.4 percent to a record $138.3 billion, while imports dropped by 0.4 percent to $195.9 billion.

A weakening dollar makes U.S. exports more competitive abroad.

Meanwhile, the number of newly laid off workers seeking unemployment benefits dropped last week, a better showing than Wall Street had expected. Labor Department figures showed applications for jobless benefits fell by 12,000 to 308,000 last week, rather than staying flat as had been expected.

While overall retail sales reports were sluggish, Wall Street cheered Wal-Mart's announcement. The world's largest retailer raised its third-quarter profit forecast even after reporting its same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, rose a weaker-than-expected 1.4 percent in September.

Wal-Mart, the biggest advancer among the 30 stocks that make up the Dow industrials, jumped $1.84, or 4 percent, to $47.41.

TJX Companies Inc. (TJX) rose $2.23, or 7.5 percent, to $31.90 after the parent of the T.J. Maxx and Marshalls chains turned in a 2 percent increase in its September same-store sales.

PepsiCo, (PEP) the world's second-largest soft drink maker, reported its third-quarter earnings rose 17 percent amid double-digit growth in international sales. The stock, which is up nearly 20 percent for the year, slipped 5 cents to $73.55.

Medtronic Inc. (MDT) rose 44 cents to $57.29 after its drug-coated stent Endeavor moved past a big regulatory hurdle as a panel of government experts recommended the Food and Drug Administration approve the artery-opening device.