Stocks Add to Modest Gains; Retail, Tech Rise

Stocks added to modest gains amid light volume and weak economic news as the quarter end neared.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained more than 50 points after closing lower Mondayon low volumes.

Among Dow components, Home Depot AT&T , and Alcoa rose, while Hewlett-Packard and Bank of America fell.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also rose. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, fell below 19.

Among key S&P 500 sectors, telecom, materials and consumer discretionary gained, while financials fell.

Home prices fell 3.1 percent year-over-year in January, according to the Case Shiller Home Price Index. The fall was slightly less than expected by economists surveyed by Reuters. According to Case Shiller, home prices fell in most major U.S. cities. For the month, index os 20 metropolitan areas fell 0.2 percent in January from December.

Consumer confidence dropped in March to 63.4 from a revised 72.0 in February, the Conference Board reported on Tuesday. Economists surveyed by Reuters had expected the index to fall to 65.0, according to a median forecast.

President Barack Obama defended his case for military interventionin a televised address Monday evening, saying the U.S. intervened to prevent a massacre of civilians.

Obama said, however, however that the nation wouldn't get bogged down trying to topple Muammar Gaddafi. Many lawmakers have accused the President of failing to explain the U.S. role in the air assault.

Muammar Gaddafi’s forces fired heavy weapons at rebels overnight and retook a small town east of Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace and a military base.

Meanwhile problems with Japan’s supply chain as a result of the devastating earthquake and tsunami have affected global manufacturing, hitting carmakers and manufacturers.

Shares of Lennar fell after the homebuilder reported a 12 percent drop in new orders and slumping revenue.

But Home Depot got a boost from news it planned to buy back $1 billion in stock. The home improvement retailer will use proceeds from a $2 billion debt offering.

Halliburton traded slightly higher despite news that the conflicts in the Middle East, particularly sanctions on Libya, dented its first quarter profits by three or four cents a share.

In company news, rose slightly after news the online retailer would offer a cloud-basedmusic storage service.

Wal-Mart will be in the U.S. Supreme Court today to argue that a class action suit brought by female employees should be stopped. The suit is the largest class action sex discrimination suit in history. Shares of the giant discount retailer traded flat.

General Electric fell slightly after news it plans to buy a 90 percent stake in Converteam for about $3.2 billion. Converteam is an electrical equipment developer based in France.

Hertz fell after news private equity funds holding stock in the rental company would sell 50 million shares to the public.

And Lululemon Atheletica shares jumped after news the athletic apparel maker's board approved a two-for-one stock split.

will be in focus after the U.S. International Trade Commission said it would review a patent decision that ruled Apple and did not infringe Kodak's digital camera patents.

In Europe, Standard & Poor's cut Portugal's credit ratingfor the second time in less than week, pushing it almost to the level of "junk." Portugal is in the midst of a political crisis in the wake of Prime Minister Jose Socrates' resignation over parliament's failure austerity measures he backed.

France, a survey showed a majority of citizens still support nuclear energy despite the disaster in Japan.

President Nicolas Sarkozy visits Japan later this week after Tokyo Electric Power, which operates the stricken Fukushima plant, requested help from French nuclear companies including EDF and Areva. He will be the first foreign leader to visit since earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11.

European stocks traded flat Tuesday.

Coming Up This Week:

TUESDAY: 5-year Treasury note auction; earnings from Lennar before-the-bell; Bullard speaks. WEDNESDAY: Mortgage applications, Challenger job-cut report, ADP employment report, oil inventories, seven-year Tresaury note auction, farm prices, Wal-Mart international investor conference; earnings from Family Dollar before-the-bell and Mosaic after-the-bell; Bullard and Hoenig speak.
THURSDAY: Weekly jobless claims, Chicago PMI, factory orders, money supply; Lacker speaks, Tarullo speaks.
FRIDAY: Auto sales, nonfarm payroll report, ISM manufacturing index, construction spending; Plosser speaks.

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