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Stocks that were in focus in U.S. trading on Thursday include: Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), General Motors Company (NYSE:GM), Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST), Commercial Metals Company (NYSE:CMC), Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX), ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), Zumiez Inc. (NASDAQ:ZUMZ), Transocean LTD (NYSE:RIG), General Growth Properties Inc (NYSE:GGP), Forest Oil Corporation (NYSE:FST), Ross Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ:ROST), UniFirst Corp (NYSE:UNF), Hot Topic, Inc. (NASDAQ:HOTT) and Quiksilver, Inc. (NYSE:ZQK).

Market Levels

•    US:  Dow: 13391.40 (-0.16%), S&P 500: 1459.25 (-0.22%), NASDAQ: 3100.57 (-0.38%)
•    Europe: CAC: 3721.17 (-0.34%), DAX: 7756.44 (-0.29%), FTSE: 6047.34 (0.33%)
•    Asia-Pacific: Australia: 4740.70 (0.74%), China: 2269.13 (0.00%), Hong Kong: 23398.60 (0.37%), India: 6009.50 (0.27%), Japan: 10395.18 (0.00%).
•    Metals: Gold: 1674.60 (-0.84%), Silver: 30.72 (-0.93%), Copper: 3.72 (-0.51%)
•    Energy: Crude Oil: 92.92 (-0.21%), Natural Gas: 3.20 (-1.08%)
•    Commodities: Corn: 6.89 (-0.22%), Soya Bean: 13.86 (-0.41%), Wheat: 7.55 (0.03%)
•    Currency: Euro (€) / US Dollar ($) (EURUSD): 1.3054 (1.04%), British Pound Sterling (UK£) / US Dollar ($) (GBPUSD): 1.6102 (0.94%), US Dollar ($) / Japanese Yen (¥) (USDJPY): 87.2350 (-0.10%)
•    10 year US Treasury: 1.905% (0.067)

Market and Economy News Update

U.S. markets decline: U.S. markets closed lower after minutes from the latest Federal Reserve meeting showed that policy-makers felt bond buying would last at most until the end of 2013. Markets also took a breather following the previous session’s sharp rally. On the economic front, planned lay-offs at U.S. firms fell for the first time in four months in December, according to data from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Analysts were looking for a gain of 0.6 percent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEXDJX:.DJI) dropped 21.19 points, or 0.2 percent, to end at 13,391.36, and the S&P 500 (INDEXSP:.INX) fell 3.05 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,459.37. The NASDAQComposite (INDEXNASDAQ:.IXIC) declined 11.70 points, or 0.4 percent, to 3,100.57.

Oil prices fall: Oil prices declined on Thursday amid investor concern that the new budget legislation won’t reduce the world’s biggest economy’s deficit fast enough. Crude oil for February delivery shed 0.2 percent, to settle at $92.92 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent oil for February settlement slipped 0.6 percent to $111.82 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange.

Stocks in Focus

Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), General Motors Company (NYSE:GM)

Shares of Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) and General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) jumped to fresh 52-week highs after both automakers posted December sales that beat expectations. Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) said U.S. new-vehicle sales rose 1.9 percent in December to 214,222 units from 210,140 a year ago. Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F)’s Focus and Fiesta brands saw sales increases of 58 percent and 52 percent, respectively, last month. General Motors Company (NYSE:GM)’s December deliveries of U.S. vehicles were up 5 percent to 245,733 units. General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) said its December sales were the best in five years.

Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)

Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) has agreed to change some of its business practices, including allowing rivals access to certain standard technologies, to close a long-standing U.S. Federal Trade Commission antitrust investigation. The regulator added that they have found no evidence to claims that Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) skews its search results to favor its own services. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) said it was pleased with the outcome of the case.

Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST)

Warehouse retailer Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST) reported a 9 percent rise in December same-store sales, topping the 6.5 percent increase that analysts had been forecasting. Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST) said net sales increased 12 percent to $11.2 billion in the five weeks to December 30. Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST) gained 1 percent in Thursday trading.

Commercial Metals Company (NYSE:CMC)

Activist investor Carl Icahn has reduced his stake in Commercial Metals Company (NYSE:CMC) to 6.17 percent from a prior 7.49 percent, according to a SEC filing. Icahn first acquired a stake in Commercial Metals Company (NYSE:CMC) in 2010, and increased his holdings in the following quarters, but backed away after failing to takeover the company. Commercial Metals Company (NYSE:CMC) shares plunged 1.9 percent to $15.28.

Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX), ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP)

ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) and Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX) have been accused of violating California environmental laws by failing to properly maintain underground gas storage tanks at its more than 560 gasoline stations. In a civil lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court, the state accused the oil producer and the refiner of improperly monitoring, inspecting and maintaining the underground storage tanks. A Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX) spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter. ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) shares closed at $59.17 and Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX) shares closed at $53.19.

Zumiez Inc. (NASDAQ:ZUMZ)

Zumiez Inc. (NASDAQ:ZUMZ) reported a 1 percent decrease in December same-store sales, compared to analysts’ expectations for a 3.6 percent decline. Zumiez Inc. (NASDAQ:ZUMZ), which sells surf- and skate-inspired clothing and equipment, said total sales for the five weeks ending December 29 jumped 15 percent to $120.3 million. Shares of Zumiez Inc. (NASDAQ:ZUMZ) rose $1.72, or 8.8 percent, to $21.22.

Transocean LTD (NYSE:RIG)

Transocean LTD (NYSE:RIG) has agreed to pay $1.4 billion and plead guilty to a single count of violating the Clean Water Act as part of a civil and criminal settlement with the Department of Justice over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico. Transocean LTD (NYSE:RIG) was the owner and operator of the drilling rig that exploded in April 2010, killing 11 workers and setting off the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Transocean LTD (NYSE:RIG) said the agreements to plead guilty and pay the fines had removed much of the uncertainty surrounding the accident.

General Growth Properties Inc (NYSE:GGP)

General Growth Properties Inc (NYSE:GGP) slumped 2.9 percent to $19.46 after second-largest shareholder Pershing Square Capital Management LP gave up its demand for the sale of the company. General Growth Properties Inc (NYSE:GGP)’s biggest investor, Brookfield Asset Management Inc., will buy warrants for 18.4 million shares of the real estate investment trust from Pershing Square, according to a statement released today. http://www.valuewalk.com/2013/01/ackman-no-longer-supports-sale-of-general-growth-properties-inc-ggp/

Forest Oil Corporation (NYSE:FST)

Forest Oil Corporation (NYSE:FST) said it will sell most of its South Texas assets, excluding the Eagle Ford shale, for $325 million, as it seeks to raise cash to pay down debt. Forest Oil Corporation (NYSE:FST), which did not disclose the buyer of the properties, said the sale is expected to close around February 15. Forest Oil Corporation (NYSE:FST) shares rose 23 cents, or 3.3 percent, to $7.14

Ross Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ:ROST)

Ross Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ:ROST) jumped 8 percent after raising its fiscal fourth-quarter guidance. Ross Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ:ROST) said it expects fourth quarter profit of between $1.05 and $1.06 a share, up from its earlier estimate of 99 cents to $1.04 a share. Analysts expect the retailer to earn $1.04 a share. Same store sales for December rose 6 percent, also ahead of expectations for a 2.7 percent growth.

UniFirst Corp (NYSE:UNF)

Uniform rental company UniFirst Corp (NYSE:UNF) said its fiscal first-quarter profit jumped to $30.8 million, or $1.54 per share, from $25.8 million, or $1.30 per share, a year earlier. Revenue increased 6 percent to $332.6 million from $313 million in the same period last year. Analysts were expecting UniFirst Corp (NYSE:UNF) to earn of $1.33 per share, on revenue of $326.3 million. UniFirst Corp (NYSE:UNF) also raised its full-year earnings outlook. UniFirst Corp (NYSE:UNF)’s shares soared 8.2 percent, or $6.17, to $81.8 at close on Thursday.

Hot Topic, Inc. (NASDAQ:HOTT)

Hot Topic, Inc. (NASDAQ:HOTT) said it expects 2013 full-year earnings to increase by up to 35 percent from a year earlier, as it plans to open about 40 new Torrid stores and other outlets this year. Hot Topic, Inc. (NASDAQ:HOTT) said sales during the holiday period rose 4 percent from the year-ago period.  The mall-based retailer had said in November that its fiscal third-quarter earnings jumped 38 percent on stronger sales and margins. Shares of Hot Topic, Inc. (NASDAQ:HOTT) rose 11 percent to $10.78.

Quiksilver, Inc. (NYSE:ZQK)

Quiksilver, Inc. (NYSE:ZQK) has named Andy Mooney as president and chief executive officer, effective January 11, replacing co-founder Bob McKnight, who stepped down this month after six years of annual losses. Mooney was most recently the chairman of consumer products for The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS). Skate and surf retailer Quiksilver, Inc. (NYSE:ZQK) has been posting annual net losses since 2007, and reported a net loss of$10.8 million for the fiscal year ended October 31. Shares of Quiksilver, Inc. (NYSE:ZQK) moved higher following the announcement.