Investors cautious amid heady gains in stock prices

Wall Street is poised to take a breather Thursday as investors weigh recent gains that have lifted stock indexes to their highest levels so far this year. U.S. investors' cautiousness was apparent Wednesday after the benchmark Dow Jones industrial average gained less than half a percent to end the day at 9543.52.

Stocks to watch today include luxury home-builder Toll Brothers (TOL), which reported Thursday morning a much larger quarterly loss of $472.3 million, or $2.93 a share, compared to a loss of $29.3 million, or 18 cents a share, a year ago. Included in the current quarter loss was a $439.4 million non-cash deferred tax allowance and write-downs totaling $115 million. Last year's results included write-downs of $139.4 million. New home buyers wait-and-see attitudes took a toll on the company's revenues, which fell 42 percent to $461.3 million. But the company said it sees signs of stabilization in the housing market. The company is scheduled to discuss its fiscal third-quarter results in a conference call at 2 p.m. ET.

Computer-maker Dell Inc. (DELL) also releases earnings today. It's expected to report earnings slipped to 22 cents a share from 25 cents a share a year ago. The company sales volume could also provide insight as to whether PC buyers are holding off purchases in anticipation of the release of Microsoft's (MSFT) new Windows 7 operating system, due in October.

The Department of Labor releases fresh data on new unemployment claims at 8:30 a.m. ET, while the Commerce Department provides revised second-quarter gross domestic product numbers.

Asian markets were lower Thursday, driven down by concern over economic recovery in China. European markets, meanwhile, posted modest gains after early losses on news of better-than-anticipated corporate earnings.

Oil prices slipped to just over $71 a barrel Thursday, dragged down by signs of faltering U.S. crude demand and concerns the global economic recovery will be anemic.
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