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After The Close - Stocks continued to rally in this holiday-shortened week, and managed to do so today without the volatility that caused some consternation on Monday and Tuesday. At the end of the day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 162 points and the NASDAQ was 52 points to the good. Market breadth was highly favorable, with the number of rising issues topping by a wide margin those falling on both the Big Board and the NASDAQ.

Wednesday’s advance was assisted by generally favorable earnings and economic data stateside, news that China’s GDP slowed less than feared, and a lack of jarring fresh incidents in the festering Russia-Ukraine dispute.

This morning’s business news showed an acceleration in housing starts during March and a faster-than-expected rise in industrial production last month. That sent the bulls on their merry way early in the session. Overall, it has seemed as if stocks wanted to move higher this week, after last week’s poor showing. Traders can usually sense when there is room to push stocks up, although the sustainability of any short-term uptrend never completely unclear.

As for today, the market received further reinforcement in mid-afternoon from the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book, which showed a continuation of the type of slow-but-steady economic growth that has marked much of the nation’s recovery over the past five years.

Moreover, Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s speech today at the Economic Club of New York highlighted the significant progress the economy has made in recent years, while noting that there is still room for improvement.

Also providing Wall Street with a level of support was word that China’s first-quarter GDP only slowed to 7.4% from the 7.7% in the fourth quarter of 2013. Concerns had been rising that China’s expansion might be notably at risk, given recent discouraging manufacturing and trade data.

The generally favorable economic statistics, both here and from China, lifted shares in the industrial sector, such as Dow-30 components 3M (MMM - Free 3M Stock Report) and United Technologies (UTX - Free United Technologies Stock Report).

Absent this session was the type of unsettling event in Ukraine that brought the bears to life earlier this week. But the situation in eastern Ukraine is touch and go, with its Russia-aligned population at increasing odds with the rest of the country, which favors closer ties with Europe than Moscow.

Tomorrow is the final trading day of the week. U.S. financial markets will be closed in observance of Good Friday. - Robert Mitkowski

At the time of this writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned. 

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12:15 PM EDT - The U.S. stock market is making further progress today. Notably, at just past noon in New York, the major averages are all in positive territory. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 128 points; the broader S&P 500 Index is ahead 15 points; and the NASDAQ is higher by 40 points. Market breadth shows some support for equities, as advancing stocks are outnumbering decliners by about two to one on the NYSE. All of the various market sectors are gaining, which is encouraging. There is notable strength in the consumer area, thanks to a good showing by the automotive issues. Basic materials stocks are also showing leadership, as there is strength in the chemicals names. In contrast, the technology group, while still up, is a relative underperformer, as the hardware manufacturers are a bit weaker today.

Technically, the stock market remains choppy, and has been a bit volatile. Notably, the market has firmed up over the past few sessions, and today’s move up puts the S&P 500 Index back above its 50-day moving average, located at 1,848. However, it remains to be seen if this level will hold. Some follow through buying will be required on the part of the bulls if this market is to advance in a meaningful way. Meanwhile, the weakness on the NASDAQ, which contains the more speculative growth issues, is still an area of concern.

Elsewhere, it is a somewhat busy day for economic reports. Housing starts came in at 946,000 units, annualized, for the month of March. While this was a bit lower than had been anticipated, it was still respectable. Monthly building permits, too, were decent. Meanwhile, in the broader economy, industrial production increased 0.7% in March, which exceeded expectations. Capacity utilization, also picked up. Elsewhere, the Fed is set to release its Beige Book summation for the month of April later this afternoon, and that issuance will be widely watched.

Meanwhile, investors received quite a few important earnings releases to sift through today. Specifically, Bank of America (BAC) stock is lower after that financial giant issued disappointing profits. In technology, Intel (INTC - Free Intel Stock Report) stock is up, as that company put out a decent report after yesterday’s close. - Adam Rosner

At the time of this article’s writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.

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Stocks to Watch from The Survey The earnings calendar is starting to heat up, with reports out from several high-profile companies. Leading the charge is chip maker Intel (INTCFree Intel Stock Report), which has reported fairly good news for the first quarter of this year, and results were largely in line with our expectations. The report was met with a muted reaction on Wall Street, however, and INTC stock is little changed ahead of the bell. Elsewhere, investors were not overly excited with March-period figures from financial services heavyweight Bank of America (BAC) and railroad operator CSX Corp. (CSX). Consequently, both equities are indicating lower openings this morning. Conversely, Wall Street was enthused with first-quarter financials from medical supplies company St. Jude (STJ), Midwestern bank U.S. Bancorp (USB) and, most notably, Internet company Yahoo! (YHOO). 

In other news, shares of SodaStream International (SODA) are up sharply ahead of the bell, after news reports surfaced that the maker of home beverage carbonation systems may be looking to sell a minority stake in the company. – Matthew E. Spencer

At the time of this article’s writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.

Before The Bell - It was another volatile day of trading on Wall Street yesterday, with the major U.S. equity indexes taking investors on another rollercoaster ride, which has become commonplace this April. Specifically, the averages started the session to the upside, then gave back those gains and then some by the early afternoon hours before regrouping and once again moving nicely higher. By the closing bell, the Dow Jones Industrials, the NASDAQ Composite, and the broader S&P 500 Index extended Monday’s gains by 90, 11, and 12 points, respectively. The first two trading days of this week have seen the Dow 30 rebound by nearly 250 points.

Once again, traders were weighing some positive corporate earnings news stateside against some troubling news from Eastern Europe. Investors, who are operating under the mindset that the first-quarter earnings season will make for a disappointing reading, were pleasantly surprised to see that blue-chips Johnson & Johnson (JNJ - Free Johnson & Johnson Stock Reprot) and Coca-Cola (KO - Free Coca-Cola Stock Report) met or exceeded expectations—and shares of both Dow-30 companies finished higher. Investors should also note that the good news continued after yesterday’s closing bell, with technology giants Intel (INTC - Free Intel Stock Report) and Yahoo! (YHOO) posting slightly better-than-expected quarterly results. Shares of the latter technology company are up sharply in pre-market trading and could provide a similar spark as J&J and Coca-Cola did yesterday.

As noted, all the news was not good yesterday. Specifically, stocks fell swiftly and sharply after news surfaced that Ukraine troops seized an airfield from pro-Russia forces. The escalating tensions overseas will likely continue to unnerve investors until some settlement between the bickering nations is reached. The major European bourses, most notably Germany’s DAX, fell sharply on the geopolitical tensions. However, the news from Asia was a bit better overnight, as China’s GDP came in slightly better than expected, at 7.4%, but investors should note that it marked the slowest three-month reading since 2010. This, along with expectations that recent stimulus measures taken by China’s government will help boost output over the remainder of 2014, had investors feeling a bit better about the world’s second-largest economy.

Overall, most of the top-10 sectors finished yesterday in the plus column. The only notable laggards were the basic materials, consumer discretionary, and telecommunications stocks. Within the basic materials space, the precious metals and the steel stocks were hammered. It also should be noted that despite two winning sessions on Wall Street to start the week, there were many investors still adhering to a “flight-to-safety” strategy. The utilities were in demand, and there was some interest throughout the session in the consumer staples stocks. Likewise, there was demand for fixed-income securities. In fact, it was notable that the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell yesterday, despite recent data—including Tuesday’s report on consumer prices and, more so, Friday’s producer prices—showing an uptick in inflationary pressures.

Looking at the day ahead, it may well be another volatile day on Wall Street. Investors will have to sift through a number of earnings and economic reports. On the business beat, we just received the latest data on residential construction, and it made for a somewhat disappointing reading. Specifically, the Commerce Department reported that housing starts were up sequentially in March, but down nearly 6% year over year, while building permits, which are an even better indicator of future construction activity, were lower on a sequential basis, but up about 11% year to year. Shortly, we will receive the latest data on industrial production. Then at around 2:00 P.M. (EDT), the Federal Reserve’s latest Beige Book summation of economic conditions will be released. That report is expected to be closely examined, as it could provide more clues about what the lead bank’s next monetary policy move might be.

With less than a half-hour to go before the commencement of trading on these shores, the NASDAQ and S&P 500 futures are pointing toward a higher open for the U.S. equity market. That said, with many reports for investors to consider over the next few hours, we would not be surprised if market participants were taking on another rollercoaster ride today. Stay tuned.  - William G. Ferguson

At the time of this writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.