Stocks Push Higher After Consumer Sentiment

Stocks pushed higher Friday after a slightly better-than-expected reading on consumer sentiment. Stocks had gotten off to a higher start after the EU and IMF reached a deal to provide a safety net for Greece.

ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet said he found the plan "workable."

That gave a boost to the euro, which rallied off a 10-month low against the dollar, sending commodity prices and related stocks lower. Materials and financials were the morning's best performers.

The Dow was up about 50 points at halfway mark, led by Alcoa , Bank of America and JPMorgan . Pfizer led decliners.

Consumer sentiment came in slightly better than expected, holding at 73.6 in the final March reading, according to a Reuters/University of Michigan survey. Economists had expected the gauge to slip to 73.

And the final reading on fourth-quarter GDP was revised lower to a 5.6-percent rate from the 5.9 percent the government originally estimated. Corporate profits grew 6.5 percent between quarters, nearly half the 12.7-percent growth logged in the third quarter. But, in year-over-year terms, corporate profits were up 31 percent, the biggest increase since 1984.

European shares failed to keep their positive momentum after closing at near an 18-month high Thursday, with banks the main losers. Asian stocks finished largely in the green with currency fluctuations lending momentum.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average's drive towards 11,000 seems to have been temporarily stalled as a late-session selloff Thursday saw a triple-digit gain for the index largely evaporate; the blue-chip average finished up merely 5 points at 10,841.

Three Federal Reserve speakers are on Friday's schedule, though only one will speak during market hours. Fed Governor Kevin Warsh will speak at New York's Harvard Club at 11:30 am. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard will participate in a panel discussion on monetary policy in Washington at 4 pm, while Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo gives a speech at that same event at 6 pm.

Oracle topped analyst estimates for both earnings and revenues as well as giving its best sales forecast in more than a year when it released its earnings results Thursday. The shares, however, fell after-hours after they hit a 9-year high during regular trading.

In company news, Genzyme shares gained after Leerink Swan raised the company to "outperform" from "market perform."

Radio Shack got a boost amid news the electronics retailer could be looking for a buyer, according to the New York Post, which said Best Buy would be a possible suitor.

Accenture shares fell after reporting Thursday that earnings fell 2.8 percent, worse than market expectations.

A handful of retailers were higher on upgrades from JPMorgan, including Coach and Urban Outfitters.

The White House is set to announce a new housing bailout plan today at 10 am. Under the plan, lenders will be required to lower the mortgage payments of some unemployed workers, and they'll be given incentives to cut principal for some homeowners who owe more than their home is worth.

Still to Come:

FRIDAY: Consumer sentiment; Fed's Warsh, Bullard speak