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Stocks Trade Mixed; Banks Rise, Intel Slips

CNBC.com
Wednesday, 22 Dec 2010 | 11:53 AM ET

Stocks were narrowly mixed after news existing home sales rose in line with expectations, and that third-quarter GDP grew slightly more than reported previously, but less than expected.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was was up about 10 points after hitting its highest levelon Tuesday since Aug. 29, 2008.

JPMorgan, Bank of America, and Boeing rose, whileIntel and American Express fell.

The S&P 500 was up slightly after hitting its highest level Tuesday since the Friday before Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. The Nasdaq was flat after hitting a nearly three-year high on Tuesday. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, fell below 16.

Among key S&P sectors, financials, consumer staples and consumer discretionary rose, while telecom and technology fell.

The dollar fell slightly against a basket of currencies, as the euro also slipped despite news in a Portugese business daily that China was ready to buy 4-5 billion euros ($5.3-$6.6 billion) of Portuguese sovereign debt. The news was reported in the Jornal de Negocios on Wednesday.

In economic news, the Commerce Department reported third-quarter gross domestic product was revised to an annualized rate of 2.6 percent from a previously estimated 2.5 percent, which was less than expected by many market observers.

Although still positive, a 2.6 percent growth rate isn't enough to reduce the unemployment rate, said Keith Springer, president of Springer Financial Advisors in Sacramento.

Moreover, the report also showed personal consumption didn't gain as much as expected, Springer said. Personal consumption rose a revised 2.4 percent in the third quarter and only 0.5 percent when volatile food and energy prices were not included, an indication that inflation is "virtually nonexistent," he said.

"The entire recovery hinges on personal consumption, essentially consumer spending," Springer told CNBC.com.

The figures didn't send stocks lower because continued weakness means the Federal Reserve will continue to stimulate the economy. The result is essentially a "Goldilocks" environment for the stock market, he said.

"It's the best of all worlds for the stock market, not for the economy and not for every American, but for the stock market," Springer said.

Oil and resource-related stocks mostly advanced after oil prices crossed $90 a barrel after U.S. Energy Information Adminstration data released Wednesday indicated oil stockpiles fell 5.3 million barrels, which was more than expected. The data confirmed industry reports as cold gripped the U.S. and Europe. Gasoline inventories, however, rose, which kept prices in check.

Devon Energy , Diamond Offshore Drilling and Marathon Oil , led the energy sector higher.

Constellation Energy , meanwhile, gained after Citigroup raised the stock to "buy" from "hold."

Home building stocks were mostly higher despite news that existing home sales rose less than expected in October.

Toll Brothers , Lennar , KB Homes and Ryland Group gained, while Hovnanian slipped.

Nike shares tumbled after the company reported better-than-expected earnings but disappointing future orders.

Analysts had expected orders—a key measure of sales growth—to exceed the 11 percent reported by Nike.

Microsoft advanced on media reports it is developing a new version of its widely used Windows operating system that targets low-power devices such as tablets.

Walgreen shares jumped after the drugstore chain reported better-than-expected profitsfor its fiscal first quarter thanks to higher margins. Walgreen's profits for the quarter ended Nov. 30 rose to $580 million, or 62 cents a share, up from $489 million, or 49 cents a share, a year earlier. Analysts had expected the drugstore chain to earn 54 cents a share.

Among bank stocks, which were mostly higher Wednesday, Bank of New York Mellon and State Street Bank got a lift from Raymond James, which began coverage of both banks. The brokerage rated Bank of New York a "strong buy" and set a $40 a share price target, while it rated State Street"outperform" and gave it a $58 a share price target.

Footlocker shares fell despite FBR's decision to add the athletic footwear retailer to its top picks list. The company, however, is trading near its 52-week high.

Activision's shares rose after news "Call of Duty: Black Ops" crossed the $1 billion mark. The gaming company, meanwhile, is seeking $400 million damages from rival Electronic Arts in a lawsuit related to "Call of Duty," according to court filings. Activision already had a case against two former employees who developed the "Call of Duty" video game franchise, and now have an independent company developing games for EA.

Also in earnings news, Bed, Bath and Beyond and Micron report earnings after the market closes.

Elsewhere in U.S. economic news, existing home sales for November rose 5.6 percentto a seaonally adjusted annual unit rate of 4.68 million units in November, after falling 2.2 percent in October, the National Association of Realtors reported. The rate was less than expected by economists surveyed by Reuters, who expected sales to rise to a 4.71 million unit pace.

Meanwhile, prices of existing homes rose 0.7 percent in October.

And mortgage applications fell to the lowest level in nearly a yearas refinancings tumbled in the wake of rising interest rates, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday.

In addition, investors will keep an eye on geopolitical developments on Wednesday afterSouth Korea announced land and sea military exercises including its largest-ever live-fire drill near North Korea just as tensions on the peninsula were beginning to ease.

European stocks edged higher in quiet trading, extending a December rally. European stocks have also returned to pre-Lehman bankruptcy levels.

On the Calendar This Week:

WEDNESDAY: Existing home sales, oil inventories; after-the-bell earnings from Bed, Bath & Beyond, Micron.
THURSDAY: NYSE early close; durable goods orders, personal income and spending, weekly jobless claims, consumer sentiment, new home sales.
FRIDAY: Markets closed for Christmas.

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