US equities closed higher for the first time in three days and crude oil tanked at the end of this four-day trading week for stocks.
First, the scoreboard:
- Dow: 17,709.49 +11.31 (0.06%)
- S&P 500: 2,066.73 +7.04 (0.34%)
- Nasdaq: 4,885.92 +5.69 (0.12%)
And now, the top stories on Thursday:
- Oil prices declined after a framework for a deal on Iran’s nuclear program was announced. Brent crude fell by as much as 5% to as low as $US54.03 per barrel, while West Texas Intermediate crude slipped by as much as 3.5% to below $US49 a barrel. If a final deal is reached, US economic sanctions on Iran will be lifted, and the country could flood an already-oversupplied market with up to 1 million barrels of oil per day.
- The latest data from Baker Hughes (released ahead of Good Friday) showed that US oil rigs fell by 11 to 802 last week — the lowest rig count since the week ending March 4, 2011. The number of combined active gas and oil rigs fell by 20 this week to 1,028, the lowest since October 2009.
- In other data, factory orders rose 0.2% in February, unexpectedly beating the expectation for a 0.4% decline; January orders were revised lower to -0.7%. And, initial jobless claims fell to 268,000 last week, beating the forecast of 286,000.
- The job losses caused by the oil crash slowed in March to 1,279 from 19,000 in February, according to data from staffing firm Challenger, Grey & Christmas. However, across the entire first quarter, job losses would have been one of the lowest in a quarter since the mid-90s if energy-related cuts didn’t happen, according to CEO John Challenger.
- Shares of RadioShack (now trading as a penny stock) surged by more than 70% after details of its restructuring plans emerged. Under the ownership of hedge fund Standard General LP and with assistance from Sprint, the company will this month launch a “reimagined version” of the chain, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Shares reached an intraday high of $US0.29.
- Lumber Liquidators may be slowly recovering from the bad publicity related to last month’s “60 Minutes” episode on its China-sourced laminate flooring, according to Goldman Sachs. The company announced sales fell 12.8% in March compared to last year, but first quarter sales rose 5.6% to $US260 million, beating Goldman Sachs’ expectations of $US257 million.
- “This is not a China problem,” wrote an MKM Partners analyst on allegations of fraud at Alibaba. With a “Buy” rating and price target of $US125 (vs ~$US82 today,) the stock is “most compelling large cap growth stories,” Rob Anderson wrote in a note.
- Wall Street forecasts Friday’s jobs report will show the US economy added 250,00 jobs in March, down from 295,000 in February, and that the unemployment rate held steady at 5.5%. Business Insider’s Myles Udland has the rundown on what to look for, and economists at Goldman Sachs highlighted four reasons why it could be disappointing, and one why it may be great.