- Dow Jones Industrial Average up 58.35 (+0.44%) to 13,252.45.
- S&P 500 up 8.29(+0.59%) to 1,402.57.
- Nasdaq Composite up 15.64 (+0.51%) to 3,056.37.
- Nikkei 225 up 0.72%.
- Hang Seng Index up 0.21%.
- China Shanghai Composite Index down 0.73%.
Stocks ended higher today, with financial stocks helping boost the S&P 500 above 1,400 for the first time since June 2008 and moving within 10% of its record close of 1,565 hit in October 2007. The Dow Jones Industrial Index and the Nasdaq Composite Index also added to their recent gains, extending their advance to a seventh day.
Stocks got an early start fueled by more signs the jobs market is improving as well as an unexpected rise in manufacturing in the New York region.
The number of people filing first-time applications for unemployment benefits fell by 14,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 351,000, matching a four-year low, the Labor Department said today. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had estimated claims would fall to 355,000 in the week ended March 10. Claims from the prior week were revised up from 362,000.
Also today, the New York Federal Reserve reported that manufacturing activity in its region hit at a 21-month high during March, with the the Empire State manufacturing index climbing from 19.5 last month to a new reading of 20.2, its highest level since June 2010. The Fed Bank of Philadelphia, meanwhile, said its general economic index for its region rose to 12.5 this month from 10.2 in February. Readings greater than zero signal expansion in the area covering eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.
Both figures topped expectations. Experts forecast the Philadelphia Fed gauge would rise to 12, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey for the New York Fed index, which covers New York, northern New Jersey and southern Connecticut, was 17.5.
But the biggest gain in five months for producer prices during February was working to temper market enthusiasm today. The Labor Department also today said its seasonally adjusted producer price index increased 0.4%, up from a 0.1% pace in January. Economists polled by Reuters had expected prices at farms, factories and refineries to rise 0.5%. Wholesale prices excluding food and energy costs rose 0.2%, down from 0.4% in the prior month but marking the the third month in a row core PPI rose.
Another report today showed the number of foreclosure filings nationwide dropped 2%. But the report from RealtyTrac also found that foreclosure activity jumped 24% from a year ago in states where foreclosures must be processed through the courts. Activity tumbled 23% in other states.
All but one of the 10 S&P industry sectors ended higher today led again by financial stocks. Industrial stocks also posted impressive gains, likely benefiting today's economic data while energy stocks rebounded in afternoon trading after crude oil reversed course and trimmed its morning losses.
Oil prices swung through a wide range today, falling sharply following reports the United States and Great Britain had agreed to release oil from their respective strategic reserves in a bid to reduce consumer prices. Those declines quickly evaporated, however, after Bloomberg News quoted an Obama administration official denying those reports.
In company news, U.S.-listed shares of Aixtron SE (AIXG) are up about 16% in late trade after Deutsche Bank upgraded the manufacturer of light-emitting diodes and hard-disk drives to Buy from Hold. Shares of rival Veeco Instruments Inc. (NASDAQ:VECO) gain over 10% after the brokerage also upgraded its stock to Buy.
Also, Scholastic Corp. (NASDAQ:SCHL) shares jumped over 12% today after the children's publisher said "The Hunger Games" book series will fuel better-than-forecast FY12 earnings. It now sees full-year EPS in a range between $2.60 to $2.90, ex items, up from $1.75 to $2.10 a share in its previous forecast. The new guidance also beats the consensus view of analysts calling for a $2.41-a-share profit. Revenues are now projected at $2 billion, up from $1.9 billion earlier and inline with the Street view expecting $1.99 billion in sales this year.
(+) AJG, Acquires BenefitLink Resource Group Inc. for undisclosed sum.
(+) WGO Reported 1,000-vehicle order backlog at end of fiscal Q2.
(-) NUE, Forecast Q1 EPS of $0.30 to $0.35, down from $0.50 a share profit last year.
(-) ROST, Q4 Revenues $200 million short of Street estimates.