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Benchmarks finished in the green on Tuesday, following robust economic numbers from the Euro Zone and positive retail sales data. Market sentiment was also boosted after Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said the uneven nature of recent economic data "do not present a clear picture" for the central bank to take a decision on tapering the stimulus program next month. Meanwhile, business inventories were unchanged in the month of June. Technology sector was the biggest gainer among the S&P 500 industry groups led by gains in bellwether Apple. Utilities stocks suffered the most for the third consecutive day.       

For a look at the issues currently facing the markets, make sure to read today’s Ahead of Wall Street article.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) gained 0.2% to close the day at 15,451.01. The S&P 500 rose 0.3% to finish yesterday’s trading session at 1,694.16. The tech-laden Nasdaq Composite Index added 0.4% to end at 3,684.44. The fear-gauge CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) slipped 3.9% to settle at 12.31. Consolidated volumes on the New York Stock Exchange, American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq were roughly 5.6 billion shares, well below 2013’s average of 6.36 billion shares. Declining stocks outnumbered the advancers. For 55% shares that declined, 42% advanced.

Atlanta Fed Chief Dennis Lockhart said the central bank’s decision to taper its massive bond buying program could be taken any time this year. “A decision to proceed--whether it is in September, October, or December--ought to be thought of as a cautious first step.” He added that current uneven economic data "do not present a clear picture" for the central bank to take a decision on tapering the stimulus program next month.  

On the home front, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported retail sales numbers. According to the report, retail sales increased 0.2% in July. This was below the consensus estimate of 0.3%. The previous month’s figure was revised to 0.6% from 0.4%. Retail trade sales edged up 0.1%. This is the fourth consecutive month when retail sales have increased. Excluding auto, gas and building materials, retail sales were up 0.5%. Business inventories for the month of June were unchanged from the previous month. This was below the consensus estimate of an increase of 0.2%.

On the international front, industrial production in the Euro Zone increased 0.7% in June from the previous month. This was marginally below expectations of 0.8%. Expansion in industrial production was boosted by an increase in the production of durable goods. Production of electronic products increased 4.9%, its strongest gain in two years. Industrial production in Germany climbed 2.5% in June, the fastest rate of growth in nearly two years. Investor sentiment was also boosted by another piece of encouraging news about Germany. According to the ZEW economic research institute, Germany’s investor confidence climbed in August. The economic sentiment index jumped to 42.0 from 36.3 in July, beating market expectations of 40.0.   

The technology sector was the biggest gainer among the S&P 500 industry groups led by gains in Apple Inc.(NASDAQ:AAPL).  The company shares jumped nearly 5% after news that Carl Icahn said that he has a “large position” in Apple. The Technology SPDR (XLK) gained 0.7%. Stocks such as Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ), Silicon Graphics International Corp (NASDAQ:SGI), BlackBerry Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) and IAC/InterActiveCorp (NASDAQ:IACI) added 2.1%, 6.4%, 1.4% and 0.5%, respectively.

Utilities stocks were the worst performers and the Utilities SPDR (XLU) lost 0.5%. Stocks such as NRG Energy Inc (NYSE:NRG), Exelon Corporation (NYSE:EXC), Wisconsin Energy Corporation (NYSE:WEC), SCANA Corporation (NYSE:SCG) and PG&E Corporation (NYSE:PCG) slipped 1.7%, 1.1%, 0.8%, 0.8% and 1.3%, respectively.

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