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After The Close - Stocks surged again today in a continuation of the rally that began yesterday on tame reaction to the switch in control of Crimea to Russia. At the close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 89 points and the NASDAQ was higher by 53 points, or more than twice as strong as the Dow on a percentage basis. The broad-based nature of the advance was evident, as three stocks rose for every one falling on the Big Board.

The formal annexation of Crimea by Russia is so far not making major waves. The situation could heat up, of course, if Europe and the United States were to slap Russia with broad economic sanctions, and the Kremlin were to retaliate. But in the absence of serious political or, even worse, military hostilities, the situation is not seen as cause for concern by the bulls. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Among the stock market’s ten main sectors, Technology and Healthcare were the leaders. Tech stocks were led by Dow-30 component Microsoft (MSFT - Free Microsoft Stock Report), which is seen as making ready a version of its mainstay Office software for Apple’s (AAPL) iPad. The move could translate into significant new business on the fast-growing mobile platform, and diversify the software giant away from reliance on the mature personal computer segment. Microsoft shares rose to their highest level since 2000.

Another winner was the stock of Gilead Sciences (GILD), where optimism reigned over the prospects for the company to successfully market a hepatitis C drug. Gilead is already a leader in the HIV market.

In the energy field, the shares of up-and-comer Penn Virginia Resources (PVA) made a strong move. The driller is making major strides in its oil production from the Eagle Ford shale basin in Texas, and it was disclosed that high-profile investor George Soros had increased his stake in the company. Providing a tailwind was a $1.50 a barrel rise in oil prices in New York trading, to nearly $100.

Also trading higher were the shares of FactSet Research Systems (FDS), which reported upbeat profits as a result of ongoing customer growth and a lift from a recent acquisition.

Tomorrow brings the close of the Federal Reserve’s two-day policy meeting, where no major change of course is expected. The Fed is likely to continue winding down its innovative bond-buying program, although it may revise the language and guidance regarding its low interest-rate strategy. - 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 P.M. EDT - The U.S. stock market is again advancing today, as traders look to extend yesterday’s gains. At just past noon in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 91 points; the broader S&P 500 Index is ahead 12 points; and the technology-heavy NASDAQ is adding on 43 points. Market breadth is decidedly positive, with advancers ahead of decliners by over two to one on the NYSE. There is leadership in the technology area, with gains in the software manufacturers. The healthcare stocks are also making strides, helped by the dynamic biotechnology names. In contrast, the high-yielding utility issues are lagging the broader market today. This may suggest that traders are feeling less risk averse, and may well be rotating into more dynamic areas of the market. Notably, investors are moving out of gold today, as the precious metal is off over 1%, to $1,356 an ounce. Also, the small cap issues, as measured by the Russell 2000, are seeing some buying.

Technically, today’s move up helps erase most of the market declines logged last week. Notably, the S&P 500 Index is now at about 1,870 level, and is not too far from testing its high at 1,884. Moving past this area will be crucial for the bulls, and stocks may encounter some resistance as they approach this level. But for now, it seems traders are feeling better, as the VIX is retreating 8%, to just over 14.

Investors received a few economic reports this morning. Housing starts slipped to 907,000 units, annualized, for the month of February, which was slightly lower than had been expected. On a more encouraging note, building permits, a more leading indicator, rose nicely during the month. Elsewhere, consumer prices ticked up just slightly in February, more or less meeting the consensus view. Meanwhile, the FOMC has embarked on its two-day meeting, and we will be expecting some remarks and an interest-rate decision tomorrow afternoon. Many traders may be hoping that the Fed will issue some encouraging remarks, while showing a commitment to the current supportive monetary policy.

We received a limited number of earnings releases before the session today. However, after the close we are slated to hear from technology leaders Oracle (ORCL), and Adobe (ADBE). Tomorrow, we will receive word from Jabil Circuit (JBL), another key technology company. - 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 There is some earnings news out this morning. Notably, car rental company Hertz Global Holdings (HTZ) has released disappointing fourth-quarter financials and a lackluster outlook. However, investors seemed to look past the results and appeared pleased with management’s decision to spin off its equipment rental business. HTZ stock is up modestly ahead of the bell, as a result. Financial information provider FactSet Research (FDS) and footwear retailer DSW Inc. (DSW) have also released their most recent quarterly data. Both reports were met with muted reactions on Wall Street, at least early on.

In other news, Wal-Mart Stores (WMTFree Wal-Mart Stores Stock Report) has announced plans to let customers exchange used video games for gift cards to the world’s largest retailer. WMT stock is indicating a slightly higher opening this morning, but the news has sent shares of GameStop (GME), which dominates the used video game market, down notably in pre-market trading. – 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 - If March came in like a lamb, it may be getting ready to go out like a lion--or really a bull, if yesterday's dramatic win for the latter is a harbinger of things to come. Specifically, news that China will opt for a more flexible currency and added economic stimulus, and a much better industrial production gain in our country in February, combined to more than offset continuing angst about the eroding situation between Ukraine and Russia. The latest dose of news here was the contentious referendum in Crimea over the weekend, in which those opting to return to Russia easily topped those hoping to remain tied to Ukraine. Now, Russia is getting ready to formally annex Crimea. As to industrial output, it gained 0.6% last month, which was well ahead of the 0.1% increase that many had forecast, and the decline suffered in January. Factory usage also ticked up last month; a flat reading had been the forecast for this allied metric.

As to the stock market, it roared ahead and posted a nice wire-to-wire win yesterday, advancing quickly to a gain of some 200 points in the Dow Jones Industrials and a 50-point jump in the NASDAQ. However, about a third of that gain then was surrendered in the late morning, before the bulls regrouped again as we reached the lunch hour on the East Coast. The bulls then continued to hold the edge in the afternoon, rarely moving materially off those near peak levels for the session, and finally closing the day with broad and rather sharp gains.       

All told, the Dow gained 182 points; the NASDAQ raced ahead to an increase of almost 35 points, albeit that final gain was more than 20 points off of its session highs; and the Standard and Poor's 500 Index pushed higher by nearly 18 points. The small-cap Russell 2000 Composite gained 6.82 points, but only after shedding more than half its intra-session gains. Advancing stocks easily led decliners on the Big Board to the tune of more than two-to-one. On the NASDAQ, the plurality of winning issues to losing stocks was a bit less than two-to-one.

The gains came as investors seemed to ignore the eroding situation in Crimea, in large part, perhaps, because the referendum's results over the weekend had been widely expected. As some pundits suggest, last week's abrupt selloff was probably just investors staking out a bearish position if things worked out worse in that contentious area of Europe than generally surmised. Indeed, should there be status quo in Ukraine going forward, there is every chance that the goings on in the much smaller Crimea region will not be market movers of note, especially on our shores.

Meanwhile, a new day dawns and after uneven gains in Asia overnight, with the Nikkei tracking nicely higher, but the Shanghai Composite registering a flat reading, there has been some mild slippage thus far in Europe. And over here, after a sloppy overnight showing by the equity futures, they have turned nicely higher with less than an hour to go before the start of the new trading day, in what the bulls hope will not be a prototypical Monday-Tuesday reversal.

Finally, there have just been a pair of key economic releases of note issued. Specifically, a report was released by the Commerce Department detailing a surprise decline in housing starts in February, but a welcome rise in building permits. That was encouraging as the latter issuance is more forward looking than starts and less affected by the weather. In another closely tracked report, the Labor Department issued data showing that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) had gained 0.1% in February, which was right on expectations.  For the past year, through February, this metric has shown a gain of 1.1%, suggesting once again that there is no inflation problem at this time. The tame CPI reading was due in part to a 0.5% decline in energy prices last month. Backing out the volatile food and energy components to get the so-called core CPI, we find that this item registered an increase of just 0.1% for the latest month. That, too, was in line with forecasts. - Harvey S. Katz

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