US home-sales increase, earnings send stocks higher
On a day that brought both good and bad news about the economy, investors chose to see the glass as half-full.
U.S. stocks edged higher Thursday, pushed up by a batch of bright earnings reports and encouraging news about home sales. In the fight for investors’ attention, those upbeat signs muscled out a disappointing report on unemployment claims, mixed results on European markets and weakness at big-name companies such as Aetna, UPS and Dow Chemical.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 113.90 points to 13,204.62. The Standard & Poor’s 500 climbed 9.29 points to 1,399.98. The index momentarily flitted above 1,400 in the late afternoon, its first foray past that psychological barrier in three weeks. The Nasdaq composite index rose 20.98 points to 3,050.61.
The National Association of Realtors reported that the number of contracts to buy homes is rising, which pushed up the stocks of home builders such as PulteGroup and Lennar. Companies such as Lockheed Martin, the aerospace and defense contractor, and Starwood Hotels, which runs chains including Westin and Sheraton, climbed after beating analysts’ predictions for first-quarter earnings.
Still, investors didn’t need to look far to find problems, or at least confusion, looming on the horizon.
In the U.S., the government reported that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits was little changed last week, stoking more uncertainty about when and if companies will return to pre-recession levels of hiring.
John De Clue, global investment strategist at U.S. Bank’s wealth-management business in Minneapolis, was watching the yield on 10-year Italian bonds tick up. That means the Italian government is paying more to persuade investors to hold its bonds, a sign that investors are worried about Italy’s ability to repay its debts.
De Clue described the situation in Europe as “two steps forward and one step back.”
“OK, the situation doesn’t look as serious as it did back in October,” De Clue said. “But it’s very difficult to understand what the market looks like with the need for austerity but also the need to avoid a recession.”
But Doug Cote, chief market strategist at ING Investment Management in New York, thinks concerns about Europe are overblown. Though the debt crisis isn’t solved, he said, the European Central Bank has set up enough safeguards to keep Europe’s problems from spilling across the ocean for the near future.