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STOCKS IGNORE ECONOMIC DATA FROM ABROAD By WSS Research Team

By Carlos Guillen

The equity market momentum that began last week appears to be continuing during the early stages of this trading week, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average reaching its fifths straight record high. Neither weakness in Europe nor sluggishness in China has been able to derail investors' ramping enthusiasm for stocks ... quite amazing indeed.

China's industrial output had the weakest start to a year since 2009, as production increased 9.9 percent in the first two months, below economists forecast calling for an expansion of 10.5 percent. Retail sales were also disappointing, but of course this is all relative, as they rose 12.3 percent, well below economists' estimate of 15.0 percent. While these are still strong growth rates, their decreasing levels are concerning as they may be reflecting an overall slowdown, putting at risk China's expected GDP growth rate of 7.5 percent for this year.

Over on the European front, Italy continues to be a source of concern particularly in light of the fact that last Friday Fitch Ratings cut Italy's credit rating by one notch to triple-B-plus, three steps above junk territory. According to the credit agency, the cut came as a result of political uncertainty at a time of economic weakness. Adding to the concern was data that showed Italy's gross domestic product contracted 0.9% in the fourth quarter. Adding fuel to the fire, French industrial production fell more than expected in January, putting Europe's second-largest economy on the edge of falling into its third recession in four years. Output from factories, mines, and utilities fell 1.2 percent in December, a sharper slide that economists' estimate calling for a 0.2 percent decline.

Despite the rather negative economic data from around the world, stocks are pushing higher and higher, with the Dow gaining over forty points so far into today's trading session. The rest of the week promises to be quite eventful with a slew of economic data on the way from retail sales to PPI and on Friday with Michigan Sentiment, so if all goes well stocks should push even higher.

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