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Strong domestic data coupled with a reiteration of support to the bond buying program by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke boosted investor sentiment. Better-than-expected results from companies also fuelled the sentiment. As a result, benchmarks finished in the green for the second consecutive day. All the top ten S&P 500 industry groups gained, with industrial stocks leading the pack.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) gained 1.3% to close the day at 14,076.45. The S&P 500 increased 1.3% to finish yesterday’s trading session at 1,516.01. The tech-laden Nasdaq Composite Index rose 1.0% to end at 3,162.26. The fear-gauge CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) dropped 12.7% to settle at 14.73. Consolidated volumes on the New York Stock Exchange, American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq were roughly 6.23 billion shares, below the daily average of 6.48 billion shares. Advancing stocks outnumbered the declining stocks. For the 72% that advanced, 24% declined.
Ben Bernanke’s encouraging comments about the Federal Reserve bond buying program lifted the S&P 500 above 1,500. On the second day of his testimony on Capitol Hill Bernanke once again said the Central Bank will keep interest rates near zero to give a boost to the economy. Bernanke also said: "There still seems to be quite a bit of unused resources, people that could be working, capital that could be used and is not being used." "We believe the monetary policies that we've conducted have helped get stronger recovery and more jobs than we otherwise would have had," he added. He also said the unemployment rate may not fall below 6% until 2016.
Two back-to-back encouraging economic reports on the housing sector acted as a catalyst for investor sentiment. According to the National Association of Realtors, the Pending Home Sales Index increased 4.5% to 105.9 for January, above the consensus estimate of an increase of 2%. There were monthly gains in all the regions but the gain in the Western regions was modest due to the constraints in inventory. Currently, this index is 9.5% higher than the January 2012 reading of 96.7.
Following this report, the housing stocks gained 2.2%. Stocks such as Hovnanian Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE:HOV), The Ryland Group, Inc. (NYSE:RYL), M.D.C. Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:MDC), D.R. Horton, Inc. (NYSE:DHI) and KB Home (NYSE:KBH) increased 4.7%, 2.6%, 3.1%, 1.8% and 3.4%, respectively.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, new orders of manufactured durable goods decreased in January by 5.2% to $217 billion. The decrease comes after four consecutive months of gains till December. This was above the consensus estimate of a decline 4.3%. Shipments of manufactured durable goods decreased, for the first time in the past five months, by 1.2% to $226.1 billion. Unfulfilled orders also decreased, after the four months of gains, by 0.2% to $989.2 billion.
On the earnings front, shares of major retailer Dollar Tree, Inc. (NASDAQ:DLTR) surged almost 10.5% after earnings and revenue beat the Street’s estimates. For first-quarter 2013, the company provided guidance of a revenue growth of 6.8% and EPS between $0.53 and $0.58. Shares of another noted retailer The TJX Companies, Inc. (NYSE:TJX) increased 2.5% after adjusted earnings beat the Street’s expectations. The company has provided guidance which came in below the Street’s expectations for fiscal 2013. Prominent business service provider Priceline.com Inc (NASDAQ:PCLN) reported adjusted earnings that beat estimates, following which shares surged 2.6%.
Industrial stocks were the biggest gainer among the top ten industry groups in the S&P 500. The Industrial Select Sector SPDR (XLI) increased 1.9%. Stocks such as United Technologies Corporation (NYSE:UTX), Union Pacific Corporation (NYSE:UNP), Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE:CAT), United Parcel Service, Inc. (NYSE:UPS) and Honeywell International Inc. (NYSE:HON) rose 1.6%, 2.1%, 2.6%, 1.1% and 1.8%, respectively.