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Dow, S&P Snap Losing Streak, Helped by Techs

The Dow and S&P 500 snapped a two-day losing streak Thursday, led by technology stocks after an upgrade on the chip sector.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq closed up 1.4 percent, after three straight days of decline. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.4 percent and the S&P 500 index gained 0.5 percent.

"If you're optimistic about growth in the second half, then what is tied to growth and most successful in times of growth? Technology,'' Marc Pado, U.S. market strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald in San Francisco, told Reuters.

Intel shares jumped 3.1 percent after Banc of America Securities upgraded its rating on the semiconductor sector, saying a modest inventory buildup had eased.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq also got a boost after J.P. Morgan raised its outlook for Apple earnings, saying stronger-than-expected MacBook shipments will offset softer iPhone and iPod sales.

Blue chips benefited from raised outlooks from DuPont and Wal-Mart -- both Dow components.

Chemical maker DuPont raised its profit outlookthis morning, saying strong growth in its agriculture businesses and emerging markets should help offset weakness in U.S. housing and automotive markets. The company now expects first-quarter earnings of $1.29 a share, up from its previous range of $1.14 to $1.19 a share.

Retailers largely reported dismal same-store sales, with discount chains Wal-Mart and Costco being the exception.

Wal-Mart Stores raised estimates for its first quarter, citing expense controls and fewer markdowns. The company now expects earnings between 74 and 76 cents a share, up from its prior range of 70 to 74 cents a share. The discount-retail giant said its March same-stores sales excluding fuel rose 0.7 percent, in-line with the company's expectations; including fuel, such sales increased 1.1 percent.

Wholesale-warehouse club Costco said sales at stores open at least a year rose 7 percent in March, topping analysts' expectations of just 5.9 percent.

Wal-Mart's hipper rival, Target, reported a bigger-than-expected 4.4 precent decline in same-store sales, the latest in a string of disappointing results from the chain.

Specialty chains and department stores continued to struggle. Even upscale retailers are feeling the pinch, with Nordstrom and Saks posting declines of 9.1 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively, both of which were bigger decliners than expected.

However, high-end jeweler Tiffany said it expects a second half recovery in U.S. stores and is mulling expansion.

Regardless of good or bad reports, most retail stocks advancedThursday, which traders told CNBC was due to the fact that the sector was one of the most heavily shorted and the stocks haven't come off much from January lows, so the downside is limited.

The market buzz started early today, with news that Rupert Murdoch has joined in the battle for Yahoo . News Corp. is apparently in talks with Microsoft to make a joint bid for Yahoo, according to people involved in the discussions. The combination, which would join Yahoo, Microsoft’s MSN and News Corporation’s MySpace, would create a behemoth that would upend the Internet landscape.

A day earlier, the angle of this Silicon Valley soap opera was that Yahoo was in talks to outsource its Web-search advertising to Google as part of a three-way alliance that would combine Yahoo with Time Warner's AOL Internet division.

Despite all the twists and turns, Wall Street largely believes that Microsoft will prevail. and that Microsoft's threats to lower its offer will evaporate.

Underlying the market's upswing today was a low hum of concern about the global financial industry ahead of earnings from major U.S. banks next week. Expected to report are JPMorgan on Wednesday, Merrill Lynch on Thursday and Citigroup on Friday.

Citigroup is expected to post its second-straight loss but analysts are more concerned with seeing signs of stabilityand what new CEO Vikram Pandit's vision is for the company.

Just shy of $34 billion worth of bids were submitted at today’s $50 billion Fed Treasury auction, an event the Fed set up in March that gives dealers the option of swapping mortgage-backed securities for Treasurys. It wasn’t clear, however, if the fact that this auction wasn’t overbid was an indication that liquidity has improved or whether it just means or if dealers were choosing instead to borrow directly from the Fed’s discount window.

Lehman Brothers said in a regulatory filing that it had liquidated three poorly performing funds and put the $1 billion in assets on its balance sheets. Shares of the investment bank were off 2.8 percent in premarket trading.

In economic news, jobless claims fell by 53,000-- more than double of what was expected -- last week. The U.S. trade deficit unexpectedly rose for a second straight month in February, hitting $62.3 billion as a jump in imports of foreign-made cars offset the first decline in oil imports in a year.

The Bank of England cut UK interest rates by a quarter percentage point to 5 percent, while the European Central Bank held interest rates at 4 percent. While other central banks are able to cut interest rates to promote economic growth, the ECB's hands are tied: A mandate required it to focus solely on price stability.

Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said today that a breakdown in the financial industry's credit-lending model was at the core of the current crisis, though it's proven effective in the past and could be again with a few repairs.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said the U.S. economy has "turned down sharply"and that there are still risks from the housing and finance sectors. A commitment by Fannie Maeand Freddie Macto raise additional capital is critical to efforts to help the ailing mortgage market, Paulson said in remarks to the Council of Institutional Investors.

American Airlines, owned by AMR , canceled another 900 flights Thursday and said full service wouldn't resume until Saturday.

This Week:

THURSDAY: Earnings from Genentech after the bell

FRIDAY: Import prices; consumer sentiment; GE earnings; G7 finance chiefs meet in Washington

Send comments to cindy.perman@nbcuni.com.

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