Stocks Trade Mixed; Exxon Falls, Boeing Rises

Stocks traded mixed after largely disappointing economic news, and as companies delivered a varied batch of earnings a day after the market hit record multi-year highs across-the-board.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose more than 30 pointsfollowing a rallysparked by Federal Chairman Ben Bernanke's remarks during his first-ever press conference.

Among Dow components, DuPont and Boeing gained, while Johnson & Johnson and Verizon fell.

The S&P 500 rose, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq fell slightly. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market,fell to nearly 15.

Among key S&P sectors, materials and consumer discretionary gained, while energy and technology slipped.

The Dow Jones Transportation Averagerose above its record closing level of 5,492.95, reached on June 5, 2008, after ending higher for the sixth consecutive session on Wednesday. On Thursday, the transportation average traded above 5,496. The intraday record was 5,536.57, reached on May 19, 2008.

Small cap stocks are also trading at record highs. The Russell 2000 Indexof small caps hit an all-time high on Wednesday, closing at 858.31. The index is up slightly again today.

The dollar struggled in the wake of the weak economic news and affirmation of the Fed's decision to continue to keep short-term interest rates low. The index has slid against a basket of currencies almost 4 percent in April to the lowest levels since March 2008.

The dollar's weakness helped to push gold priceshigher again to record levels. Spot gold traded up to around $1,531 an ounce after hitting a lifetime high of $1,534.30 an ounce earlier. Spot silver prices also gained, hitting an intraday high of 49.14.

Stocks continued to trade mostly higher half-way through earnings season, and in the wake of Bernanke's remarks. During the press conference, the Fed chairman said the first step in raising rates could occur when the Fed stops reinvesting the proceeds of its bond holdings, which would happen "based on our view of how sustainable the recovery is."

Investors liked what they heard from Bernanke, although he didn't say much new, because he reaffirmed the Fed will maintain tight control on a modest or stable inflation rate, and will continue to combat unemployment, said Tim Speiss, head of personal wealth advisors at EisnerAmper, adding that it was good for investors to hear Bernanke's explanation of the Fed's thinking.

"That gives a lot of confidence to investors," Speiss said.

While Speiss is generally upbeat about the economic outlook, he is concerned about the 5.2 percent drop in government spending in the first quarter. "When that starts to slow down, you can see a deceleration in (economic) forecasts," he said. "We'll keep an eye on that."

A big batch of earnings were released before the market opened. Exxon Mobil fell slightly as investors focused on revenues that fell shyof expectations, although profits were better than expected.

Procter & Gamble sank afterlowering the high end of its profit forecastbecause of rising materials costs.

And PepsiCo rose despite reporting that rising costs hurt first quarter profitsfor the snacks and drinks maker.

While Dow Chemical gained after posting strong first quarter profits, driven by rising demand for plastics.

Starbucks was another stock in focus. The group warned after Wednesday’s close that rising fuel and dairy costs will take a bigger chunk out of earnings than previously expected and issued a forecast that disappointed the market.

In M&A news, Exelon confirmed it will buy Constellation Energy for $7.9 billion. The deal between the rival power companies would involve Constellation shareholders recieving 0.93 shares of Exelon stock for each Constellation share. Shares of both companies gained.

stepped up calls on shareholders to back a bid from Deutsche Boerse as it unveiled strong first-quarter results.

Johnson & Johnson fell despite boosting its dividend by 5.6 percent to 57 cents a share from 54 cents.

Also in Europe, shares in Shell and Deutsche Bank gained after both companies reported higher first-quarter profits.

On the economic front, the nation's gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 1.8 percentin the first quarter compared with a 3.1 percent gain in the fourth quarter last year, according to the first reading by the govenrment.

The slowdown is viewed as a temporary result of high gas prices, which are expected to stabilize, according to economists, including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Reuters reported.

Initial jobless claims for the week ended April 23 rose by 25,00 to 429,000, the highest level since January, the Labor Department said. The prior week's claims were revised upward to 404,000 from 403,000. Economists surveyed by Reuters had expected claims would fall to 392,000.

The pending home sales index of contract signings, not closings, rose 5.1 percent to 94.1 in March, from 89.5 in February, according to the National Association of Realtors.

On Tap This Week:

THURSDAY: Pending home sales, 7-year Treasury note auction; Earnings after-the-bell from Microsoft, Motorola Mobility.
FRIDAY: Personal income, personal spending, Chicago PMI, Consumer Sentiment; Earnings before-the-bell from Caterpillar, Chevron, Merck, DR Horton.

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