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Stock Market News for February 18, 2014

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Investors focused on some encouraging earnings results and better-than-expected consumer sentiment gauge numbers to help drive benchmarks into the positive zone on Friday. Gains on Friday came despite a surprise drop in industrial production data. Eventually, Nasdaq soared to its best level since July 2000 and benchmarks had their best weekly run this year.

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) jumped a tad short of 127 points, or 0.8%, to close Friday’s trading session at 16,154.39. The Standard & Poor 500 (S&P 500) moved up 0.5% to end at 1,838.63. The tech-laden Nasdaq Composite edged up a modest 0.08% to 4,244.03. The fear-gauge CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) dropped 4% to settle at 13.57. Roughly 5.1 billion shares changed hands on US exchanges on Friday. Advancers had a better run than the decliners on the New York Stock Exchange. For 2 stocks that gained, 1 stock closed lower.

Despite modest gains from the Nasdaq, the tech-heavy index has now posted gained for seven-straight sessions. This helped Nasdaq to hit its highest level since July 2000. Friday’s finish in the positive territory also helped benchmarks to register a second consecutive week of gains. Both Dow and S&P 500 were up 2.3% for the week. Nasdaq closed the week with gains of 2.9%.

Much of the weekly gains came on the back of optimism offered by Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen.  Her pledge to keep interest rates low led benchmarks sharply higher last Tuesday. In her first speech before Congress after taking up the top position at the central bank, Yellen also supported the tapering process. Yellen had said: “Let me emphasize that I expect a great deal of continuity in the Federal Open Market Committee’s approach to monetary policy”.

Coming back to Friday’s events, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System reported a surprise drop in industrial production. The report stated industrial production had declined 0.3% in January. This contradicted expectations of a 0.2% increase, following December’s gains of 0.3%. Moreover, manufacturing output dropped 0.8% in January, which was said to be “partly because of the severe weather that curtailed production in some regions of the country”.

However, investors chose to overlook the weak industrial production data and focused on somewhat positive consumer data and encouraging earnings numbers. The University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters’ preliminary reading of consumer sentiment showed no change in February. The gauge was stable at 81.2 in February, better than consensus forecast of it dropping to 80.5.

Consumer sector ended in the green on Friday with Consumer Discrete Select Sector SPDR (XLY) gaining 0.6%. Among key stocks, The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS), McDonald's Corp. (NYSE:MCD), Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc. (NASDAQ:FOXA), Incorporated (NASDAQ:PCLN) and Nike, Inc. (NYSE:NKE) gained 1.7%, 0.3%, 1.1%, 0.3% and 0.3%, respectively.

Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR (XLP) was also up 0.6% and stocks such as The Procter & Gamble Company (NYSE:PG), The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO), Philip Morris International, Inc. (NYSE:PM) and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT) increased 2.1%, 0.7%, 1.5% and 0.6%, respectively.

Markets also received certain strong corporate results. Among others, Campbell Soup Company (NYSE:CPB) reported second-quarter fiscal 2014 adjusted earnings from continuing operations of 76 cents per share, beating the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 73 cents per share and improving 19% year on year. Reported earnings of 74 cents jumped 37% year on year. Shares of Campbell Soup gained almost 5%.

Cliffs Natural Resources Inc.’s (CLF) shares jumped 5.8% after it also reported strong fourth quarter numbers. Adjusted earnings from continuing operations (barring special items) of $1.22 per share in fourth quarter came in nearly twice as much as the 63 cents per share reported in the year-ago period. It also outpaced the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 77 cents.

Among the S&P industry groups, energy sector led the gains with Energy Select Sector SPDR (XLE) gaining 1.31%. Stocks from the sector such as Murphy Oil Corp. (NYSE:MUR), Occidental Petroleum Corp. (NYSE:OXY), Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE:XOM) and Western Refining, Inc. (NYSE:WNR) surged 5.0%, 3.8%, 2.9% and 1.5% respectively.

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