On The Fly: Top stock stories at midday

Stocks began the session deep in negative territory, but climbed off their worst levels in early trading, with the Nasdaq eventually making it back into the green. However, the momentum did not last and the major averages have fallen back toward their worst levels near noon. The departure of Chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn has rattled the markets as he was a chief architect of the President's tax reform bill. The day's economic data has been overshadowed by the news, as the ADP employment change report showed the addition of a better than expected 235,000 jobs last month. The ADP's upside surprise has had little effect, as investors remain worried about the fallout from the President's proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum. ECONOMIC EVENTS: In the U.S., the Commerce Department reported that the trade deficit grew 5.0% to $56.6B in January. That was the highest level since October 2008 and topped expectations of an increase to $55.1B. ADP reported private payrolls increased 235,000 in February, topping the 205,000 consensus forecast. Q4 nonfarm productivity was flat, and unit labor costs were 2.5% higher, versus the preliminary 0.1% decline in productivity and 2.0% rise in labor costs. COMPANY NEWS: Autodesk (ADSK) was the leading gainer on the S&P 500, rising about 12.5% following quarterly results from the architecture, engineering, construction and manufacturing software maker. Wells Fargo analyst Philip Winslow raised his price target for Autodesk to $200 from $150 afterward, as he believes Q4 marks the positive inflection point in average revenue per subscription that he has been looking for and would expect to continue for multiple years... Another notable riser following its own earnings report was H&R Block (HRB), which gained 10% after reporting better than expected revenues during the first part of this year's tax season. MAJOR MOVERS: Among the noteworthy gainers was Weight Watchers (WTW), which rose 4%, reversing pre-market losses after board member and spokesperson Oprah Winfrey exercised a portion of her options and sold a portion of her holdings in the company to use for philanthropic purposes. Also higher after reporting quarterly results were Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) and PTC Therapeutics (PTCT), which each gained about 10% apiece. Among the notable losers was Esperion (ESPR), which dropped 8% after the company reported top-line results from its bempedoic acid study. Also lower after reporting quarterly results were Dollar Tree (DLTR) and AeroVironment (AVAV), which fell a respective 15% and 17%. INDEXES: Near midday, the Dow was down 267.53, or 1.08%, to 24,616.59, the Nasdaq was down 34.60, or 0.47%, to 7,337.40, and the S&P 500 was down 19.43, or 0.71%, to 2,708.69.

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