Stocks Eke Out a Gain; Verizon Jumps

Stocks pulled off a gain Tuesday after a see-saw session as techs and industrials gained, while energy and bank stocks were weak.

Stocks had opened higher after a jump in consumer confidence and encouraging read on housing but the session turned choppy by midday. Tech and telecom were the big trading story on news of a new Apple iPhone.

The Dow gained more than 10 points, ending above the 10,900 mark, led by 3M , Verizon and Microsoft .

Market pros had expected some volatility as the quarter winds down as investors take part in window dressing — trades intended to boost returns on reports sent to shareholders — at the end of a quarter.

"I think everyone’s been hoping for some end of quarter window dressing to move things up," said Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS Financial Services. "But the way things are acting right now, this is more like window washing — we’re not really getting anywhere."

Citigroup shares continued to fall after the Treasury Department said earlier this week it intends to cash in its shares of the financial giant in a move that could result in an $8-billion profit for the government.

Shares of other large banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley also fell.

Apple hit another all-time closing high — this one at $235.83 — after the company shook up the smartphone world, saying it's designing a new iPhone that will work on Verizon's network.

AT&T was the Dow's biggest decliner, falling over 2 percent, as the Verizon phone would end AT&T's monopolyin the iPhone market.

Research In Motion fell 1 percent ahead of its earnings, which are due out Wednesday after the bell. Some investors had expected to see the stock take a bigger hit on the iPhone news but the "Fast Money" traders said don't count RIMM out yet.

An encouraging sign on the housing front: The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index fell just 0.7 percentyear-over-year, roughly in-line with estimates. And prices rose 0.3 percent from December to January, the eighth-straight gain.

And the Conference Board's gauge of consumer confidence jumped to 52.5 in March from 46.4 in February, well above the 51 economists had expected.

On the sovereign debt front, Fitch Ratings said the EU's deal to aid Greece is positive, but longer term questions still remain for the country.

The dollar roseagainst the euroas investors took profits after two days of gains and as unease continued about the euro zone's fiscal health. Oil continued to rise, topping $82 a barrel after a 3-percent gain in the prior session, while gold prices slipped to around $1,104 an ounce.

BHP Billiton and Vale rose after the firms persuaded Japanese steel mills to buy iron ore based on a quarterly pricing systemas of next month, signaling the end of yearly fixed-price contracts.

On the other hand, shares of U.S. Steel , AK Steel and Arcelor Mittal dropped on the news.

Boston Scientific rebounded from an earlier slide after the company, which pulled its implantable heart defibrillators a few weeks ago said this morning it may be a few more weeksbefore it begins selling them again as regulators review changes to its manufacturing process.

And shares of Pfizer and Onyx fell despite the firms' latest developments on a new brain cancer drug that is already in clinical trials. Scientists said the lab tests show that the drug has "a remarkable ability" to stop growth of a deadly type of brain tumor. 

Meanwhile, shares of Eli Lilly jumped after the company said it plans to launch 15 new products in China in the next five years.

JC Penney was identified in court papers as another victim of computer hacker Albert Gonzalez, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison last week for leading the theft of more than 40 million credit card numbers. A spokeswoman for JC Penney said the company's computers were hacked but no customer data was stolen.

Ford shares slipped more than 2 percent a day after the company sold its Volvo unit to Chinese car maker Geely. The company met with analysts today ahead of its sales numbers, which are due out on Thursday, along with other auto makers.

Toyota shares rose as the Japanese auto maker pre-announced its sales figures today: U.S. sales jumped nearly 35 percent in March from a year earlier after the firm offered large discounts to win over customers who had retreated after massive recalls. The company also launched its promised quality control task force. Meanwhile, NASA joined the probe of Toyota's electronic systems for any possible cause of unintended acceleration.

And Nissan shares climbed after the company said it will sell its battery powered Leaf modelfor more than $40,000 in Japan, putting it well above the price of Toyota's best-selling Prius.

On the IPO front, investors are expecting Primerica to price 18 million shares between $12-$14, tonight or possibly Wednesday. The firm is the largest financial-services marketing organization in North America, selling insurance, annuities and mutual funds.

In other news, HSBC , one of Dubai World's largest creditors, said it welcomes a restructuring plan put forth by the state-owned conglomerate, and expects positive results from that plan.

Still to Come:

WEDNESDAY: Fed ends mortgage-buyback, TALF programs; weekly mortgage apps; ADP employment report; Chicago PMI; factory orders; weekly crude inventories; Fed's Lockhart speaks; Feinberg speaks; Earnings from Dollar General, Rite Aid, Research In Motion
THURSDAY: March auto sales; Challenger job-cuts report; weekly jobless claims; construction spending; ISM manufacturing index
FRIDAY: March jobs report; Stock market closed in observance of Good Friday; Bond market closes at noon

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