Big Blue and homebuilders helped Wall Street indexes shake off dismal economic data and finish with nearly 1 percent gains Tuesday, with a little added helped from energy companies and an MBIA boost.
The International Business Machines news seemed to single-handedly change the market mood after a negative opening, though analysts said there could be broader forces at work. The Dow stalwart said its board authorized a $15 billion share buybackthat could boost 2008 earnings by up to 5 cents per share, and the company said it now expects $8.25 EPS.
"I would be a little bit more sanguine right now if we saw some more volume," said Fred Froewiss, vice president for institutional sales at RF Lafferty. "I think as we go into the balance of the week with lots of economic data coming out, traders may become a little bit more cautious as we end the trading day."
Some investors feared that an unexpected increase in the Producer Price Index would dissuade the Federal Reserve from instituting rate cuts that the slipping market has used as harbingers of hope. But analysts were broadly rejecting the notion that the economy was heading into 1970s-style stagflation, despite the dueling threats of inflation and recession.
"The inflation phenomena that we saw in the 1970s and 1980s is fundamentally different than now for a whole bunch of reasons," David Resler, Nomura Securities chief economist, said on "Power Lunch, "not the least of which is that we have more competitive pressures and finished goods markets than we had then."
While the market was expected to be sensitive to comments from Fed officials through the week, investors also took some encouragement from comments from Donald Kohn, the central bank's vice chairman, who said economic weakness is a bigger threat than inflation. The remarks were viewed as suggestive that more interest rate cuts were on the way.
Moving the Market
Crude oil closed at a record high of $100.88, and the move upward, spurred by a weak dollar and economy, carried oil majors higher as well, with ConocoPhillips leading the way.
Bond insurers were back in the news, as Moody's Investor's Service confirmed its "Aaa" rating on MBIA. Moody's cited MBIA's efforts to raise capital, but cautioned that the rating could change, particularly if the company follows through on a proposal to split its structured finance and municipal bonds businesses.
In active retail earnings news, Home Depot fell short of analyst estimates and warning of difficult times ahead. The home improvement giant said earnings per share could fall as much as 24 percent this year, and it scaled back plans for new store openings. Its shares, though, posted only modest losses.
Radio Shack, meanwhile, saw shares soar after it reported a 19.5 percent increase in fourth-quarter profit that beat analyst estimates. The electronics retailer led gainers on the S&P.
Also pushing stocks upward were home builders, benefited from continuing sentiment that the real estate market was at or near a bottom despite a continuing battery of bad news.
The residential construction sector was up 6.3 percent on the day, led by Hovnanian and Lennar.
"Anything they say about home prices now or the housing sector is not moving the markets at all," Linda Deusel, strategist for Federal Investors Equity, said on "Power Lunch."
In more retail earnings, Target posted profitof $1.23 a share that, though sharply lower from 2007, narrowly beat expectations. Macy'sbeat analyst estimateswith a profit of $1.65 a share, and Office Depot badly missed expectations, with its profit tumbling to 7 cents a share against projections of 18 cents.
Technology stocks showed early strength, even briefly sending the Nasdaq into positive territory, but fell as Google continued to see its shares pummeled after an industry report showed a decline in a key measure for how Google gets paid by advertisers. Google is off 19 percent in the past month alone.