8:50am (EST)

The market took a breather on Thursday after some disappointing jobless claims numbers but held support following Wednesday’s big pop.  The bulls did rather well in holding their ground but Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, kept a lid on any comeback after saying the unemployment rate is not going to fall significantly anytime soon.  Despite his predictions of 3%-4% economic expansion in 2011, Big Ben warned it wouldn’t be enough to make a meaningful dent in the 9.6% unemployment rate.

On that note, the Dow slipped 24 points to close at 11,731 with Merck (MRK, $34.69, down $2.46) being the biggest decliner of the blue-chip index.  Shares fell nearly 7% after the company said it would discontinue trials for its anti-clotting drug, Vorapaxar, and accounted for nearly 19 points of the 24 point Dow decline.  The Dow is up 57 points for the week and if the bulls hold 11,674, the index will stretch its winning streak to 7 straight. 

The S&P 500 darted in-and-out of positive territory for much of the session before finishing with a 2 point loss to settle at 1,283.  The bulls can make it 6 weeks in-a-row if they hold 1,271.

The Nasdaq also fell 2 points to finish at 2,735 after trading to a high of 2,742 intra-day.  Of course, the big news this morning was Intel’s (INTC, $21.29, down $0.01) earnings announcement after the close yesterday. 

The company reported a profit of $3.4 billion, or $0.59 a share, up from $2.3 billion, or $0.40, in the year-earlier period.  Revenue jumped over 8% to $11.5 billion.  Wall Street was looking for $0.53 a share on sales of $11.4 billion.  Intel reported gross margins of nearly 68% and also raised guidance for the current quarter. 

Heading into the open, shares are up 20 cents to $21.49.

Elsewhere, JPMorgan Chase (JPM, $44.45, down $0.26) reported earnings of $4.8 billion, or $1.12 a share, up from $3.3 billion, or $0.74 a share, in the year ago quarter.  Wall Street was looking for $1 a share.  Revenue checked in at $26 billion versus expectations for $24 billion.

As we head to press, Dow futures are down 43 points while the S&P 500 futures are lower by 5 points.  The Nasdaq 100 futures are off by 2 points.

We have a lot to cover in our Members Area this morning as a number of our trades have exploded this week.  We have updated all positions with new stops to lock in profits on some of our triple-digit winners.