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Stock Market Today: Builders, Banks, Boeing in Focus

The stock market today rose right out of the gate Thursday on improved economic data, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 70 points just before noon, and the Standard & Poor's 500 Index up 7.

Giving equities a lift was a pair of reports that showed the U.S. economy continues on the path to recovery.

The Department of Commerce reported Thursday morning that construction for new U.S. homes leapt in December to the highest rate in more than four years. Gains were logged all across the nation, as well as in buildings and single family homes.

The 12.1% jump in housing starts in December was the best reading since June 2008.

"Overall, this report reinforces the current narrative of a positive growth momentum in the housing sector," Millan Mulraine, a macro strategist at TD Securities told Market Watch.

A measure of homebuilders on the S&P 500 jumped 2.1%, poised for the highest closing level since 2007.

The second report that juiced markets was data from the Labor Department. A report revealed the number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected in the latest week to the lowest level in five years.

In the week ending Jan. 12, applications for jobless benefits fell by 37,000 to 335,000, marking the lowest level since Jan. 19, 2008, and well below estimates of 369,000.

"The labor market is certainly getting better," Brian Jones, senior U.S. economist at Societe General in New York, told Bloomberg News.

Even with typical seasonal adjustment, Jones added, "this is still a good report. Chances are claims remain at a fairly low level."

Earnings Moving the Stock Market Today

Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), the best-performing Dow stock of 2012, tumbled 3.31% in early morning trading after reporting fourth-quarter profit plunged 63%. Revenue also plummeted. The banking behemoth was plagued by billions of dollars in charges during the quarter related to a dispute with Fannie Mae and a foreclosure settlement.

The Charlotte, NC-based company reported a profit of $732 million for Q4, compared to a $1.99 billion profit reported in the same period a year ago. Revenue slipped 25% to $18.66 billion.

The bank reported earnings of 3 cents a share, a penny ahead of estimates.

CEO Brian Moynihan said in a statement following the report that the bank entered 2013 "strong and well positioned for growth. He cited "double-digit growth since 2012 in mortgage production, commercial lending and Global Markets revenue."

Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) shares dipped 2.66% even after the New York-based bank reported Q4 profit rose more than 25%. The firm continues to be weighed down by lingering mortgage ailments stoked during the financial crisis.

Revenue climbed 8.7% to $18.7 billion, a nod to progress in expanding abroad, an area Citi has highlighted for future profit growth.

The lackluster share-price showing from both BofA and Citi has many analysts questioning if the bank rally enjoyed during 2012 has come to an end.

Shares of the top Dog of the Dow in 2012, Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HP), were little changed after The Wall Street Journal reported the company has received "expressions of interest from interested companies for its Autonomy and EDS units."

The two divisions have been a drag for HP, which spent $13.9 billion for EDS (Electronic Data Systems) in 2008 and $11.1 billion for software company Autonomy. CEO Meg Whitman has expressed little interest to date about selling, but in a recent regulatory filing HP said it would consider divesting some business "that may no longer help us meet our objectives."

The Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) shares continued to lose altitude, dipping nearly 1%, after the FAA temporality grounded its 787 Dreamliner. The federal agency is concerned about the lithium-ion batteries used in the jumbo jets starting fires. In the past week two planes experienced battery failure. Using the lithium-ion battery extensively aboard its airplanes is a first-time move for Boeing.

Internet auction giant eBay Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY) gained nearly 3% after delivering strong fourth-quarter earnings. The company earned 57 cents per share and revenue for the quarter climbed 17%.

In commodities, oil prices surged $1.23 a barrel to $94.58, and gold prices gained $4.80 to $1,688.

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