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Stocks Rally for 5th Day; Intel, JPM Soar

Stocks rallied for a fifth straight session Wednesday, with Intel and JPMorgan at the front of the Dow pack after the pair beat earnings expectations.

The Dow gained 103.69, or 0.9 percent, to close at 11,123.11. The S&P 500 crossed 1,200, a level it hasn't seen since September 2008, at the opening bell — and stayed there through the close, ending at 1,210.65.

There were more 52-week highs on the New York Stock Exchange than at any other time since 2003.

Volume was higher than usual and the CBOE volatility index, widely considered to be the best gauge of fear in the market, fell below 16.

Analysts at Jefferies Equity Derivatives said the gap between implied volatility and realized volatility suggests a more volatile market.

Technology and financials were the top sectors, led by Intel and JPMorgan's strong earnings reports.

Intel shares jumped over 3 percent after the chip maker beat on both earnings and revenue. The firm also received price target upgrades from at least 18 brokerages.

JPMorgan Chase shot up 4.1 percent as the bank also topped earnings and revenue forecasts, with strength in investment banking and fixed-income trading. The company also said it plans to hire 9,000 new employees in the U.S.

Those two stocks, along with Bank of America , were at the top of the Dow pack. Additionally, the financial giant named outsider Charles Noski as its new finance chief.

Merck and Verizon were among the Dow's decliners.

Among other news out of the banking sector today: Morgan Stanley told investors that it may lose $5.4 billiondue to bad investments.

Shares of both Morgan and Goldman Sachs rose after Nomura started coverage of the financial giants with "neutral" and "buy" ratings, respectively.

Adding to the day's bullish tone were better-than-expected reports on retail sales and consumer prices.

Retail sales jumped 1.6 percentin March, the largest increase since November, and consumer prices ticked up 0.1 percent. Mortgage applications fell for a second straight weeklast week as mortgage rates crept higher — the 30-year fixed is now at 5.16 percent, according to the latest Bankrate.com stats.

And U.S. business inventories rose to their highest level in seven months in February as businesses restocked to meet rising demand.

Stocks got a little extra bump from the Fed's "beige-book" report, a region-by-region report on the economy named for the color of its cover, which showed improvements in most areas.

Earlier, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress that he is confident the economic recovery will have staying powerbut won't be strong enough to bring quick relief on the employment front.

And Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker said he is looking more closely for indications that the Fed should begin raising interest rates after a long period of easy money.

"I don't think this month is the time, but I'm looking with increasing attention at the economic data coming in to assess when we should make a turn and increase rates," he said at West Virginia University.

Fed Governor Warsh and Dallas Fed President Fisher also speak today.

Apple shares rose 1.3 percent after the company said the iPad has been a "runaway success" — so much so, that it delayed the international launch.

Palm gained 3.1 percent, after falling almost 15 percent Tuesday.Shares surged almost 60 percent in the past few weeks amid the news that the hand-held maker is looking for a buyer.

Research In Motion shares rose nearly 2 percent after the BlackBerry device maker said it will buy back 2 million of its common shares through a private agreement with a financial institution. The purchase largely completes a $1.2 billion share-buyback plan announced in November 2009.

Elsewhere, U.S.-traded shares of Nokia advanced after Credit Suisse raised its price target for the telecomm in anticipation of stronger sales in 2010 and 2011.

Oil pricesrose to nearly $86 a barrel, ending a five-day losing streak, amid optimism about the economy and a surprise decline in U.S. crude inventories. The dollar fellagainst other major currencies, while gold pricesrose to $1,158 an ounce.

European sharesclosed at an 18-month high with technology stocks rising on the back of Intel’s earnings. Asian marketsalso got a boost from Intel.

Adding to the optimism in Asia, China's economy grew 11.9 percent in the first quarter, the fastest pace in nearly three years, Reuters reported. The official report from China is slated to come out on Thursday.

In the U.S., Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress that he is confident the economic recovery will have staying powerbut won't be strong enough to bring quick relief on the employment front.

Meanwhile, Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker said he is looking more closely for indications that the Fed should begin raising interest rates after a long period of easy money.

"I don't think this month is the time, but I'm looking with increasing attention at the economic data coming in to assess when we should make a turn and increase rates," he said at West Virginia University.

Toyota rose 1.6 percent. The embattled automaker suspended sales of its Lexus GX 460 SUV after Consumer Reports slapped the vehicle with a rare "don't buy" rating due to an extraordinarily high risk of a rollover on some turns.

And, CSX shares climbed over 4 percent after the Dow transportation component beat estimates on Tuesday after the closing bell and saw quarterly earnings jump 22 percent.

Sirius XMjumped over 11 percent after the satellite-radio provider said it added more than 171,000 net subscribers in the first quarter.

Several stocks were upgraded by analysts:

Deutsche Bank raised its price target on U.S. Steel to $85 from $73, though the stock ended slightly lower.

McDonald’s shares advanced after brokerage Janney Capital Markets upgraded the fast-food chain to “buy” from “neutral,” citing the results of a recent survey of the company’s franchises.

Walt Disney rose after brokerage Bernstein raised the entertainment giant's price target to $37.50 from $35.50.

Still to Come:

WEDNESDAY: Earnings from Yum Brands after the bell
THURSDAY: Taxes due; Empire state manufacturing survey; industrial production; Philly Fed report; Fed's Lacker, Bullard & Lockhart speak; housing-market index; earnings from Google, AMD
FRIDAY: State unemployment rates; housing starts; Fed's Warsh speaks; consumer sentiment; earnings from Bank of America, GE, Mattel & Gannett

Send comments to cindy.perman@nbcuni.com.