Stocks End Higher, Led by Banks

Stocks ended higher Wednesday, led by financials as the sector got a shot of confidence from a well-known analyst — and investors. Staples and telecoms were the biggest decliners.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 2.95, not even a tenth of a percent, to close at 10,567.33. The S&P 500 added 0.5 percent, while the Nasdaq gained 0.8 percent.

Bank shares hit a 16-month high, with Bank of America and JPMorgan among the Dow's top gainers.

Citigroup shot up more than 3 percent as Rochdale Securities analyst Dick Bove gave the company a vote of confidence on CNBC this morning

Plus, Citi priced its preferred offering — 80 million shares at $25 each and a yield of 8.5 percent — which was met with strong demand. And there was buzz that the company's real estate unit might be purchased by Apollo Management. Citi is up over 15 percent in the past five days as investors have cheered the company's progress.

Bove also gave a shot in the arm to the entire banking sector, saying two to three years from now, bank dividend payouts are going to be back up around 40 percent.

Also drumming up interest in banks is news that British bank Barclays is said to be considering buying a U.S. retail bank. Some of the names being bandied about include Fifth Third , PNC , SunTrust and Comerica .

Bank of America has announced that it will stop debit-card purchases from going through if customers don't have enough money in their account to comply with new regulations on overdraft fees set to take effect in July.

Tech stocks also fared well on this, the 10-year anniversary of the dot-com bubble's peak. Broadcom and Google were among the top percentage gainers on the Nasdaq 100. Intel and Microsoft were up there near the top of the Dow.

In economic news today: Wholesales inventories unexpectedly fell 0.2 percentin January as sales rose to their highest level since October 2008; economists had expected to see a 0.2-percent increase in inventories.

Earlier, a report showed mortgage applications roselast week — even as mortgage rates rose.

Economist Nouriel Roubini, who predicted the 2007 financial crisis, said in a research note that the risk of a double-dip recession has risen because of poor economic data in the U.S. and Europe's debt crisis.

Indeed, U.S. economists have trimmed their growth forecast for next year, although they raised expectations for economic growth this year, a survey released Wednesday showed.

The Treasury's 10-year auction was met with decent demand: The high yield was 3.735 percent and the bid-to-cover ratio was 3.45.

Toyota and U.S. safety regulators sent inspectors to San Diego to investigate the case of a runaway Prius that accelerated out of control on a freeway in California and had to be brought to a halt by a police car.

More mergers and acquisition news: Abbott Laboratories is acquiring Facet Biotech for $27 a share, after a hostile offer of $17.50 from Biogen Idec failed. The cash deal will cost about $450 million.

Elsewhere, InterMune's experimental drug to treat lung scarring received backing from a Food and Drug Administration panel.

Apparel chain American Eagle Outfitters is due to report fiscal fourth-quarter results before the bell and analysts predicted it will make a profit of 33 cents a share on sales of $969 million.

Volume was finally on par with the year-ago average after several weeks of light trading. About 9.50 billion shares changed hands on the three major exchanges. Advancers outpaced decliners, roughly 2 to 1, on the Big Board.

Still to Come:

THURSDAY: $2B California bond sale; international trade; weekly jobless claims; 30-year auction; earnings from Nat Semi, Aeropostale
FRIDAY: Gov'ts retail-sales report; consumer sentiment; business inventories; earnings from Ann Taylor

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