Stocks close higher on tech strength


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By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — U.S. stocks closed higher Wednesday as strength in the technology sector offset weakness in energy producers and industrial companies.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) rose 33 points, or 0.3%, to close at 12,426; the SP 500 (SPX) added 3 points, or 0.2%, to 1,335; the Nasdaq Composite (COMP) gained 8 points, or 0.3%, to 2,799.

Tech stocks were among the best performers with Cisco (CSCO, Fortune 500) leading gainers on the Dow. Shares of financial services companies were also strong, with American Express (AXP, Fortune 500) and JPMorgan (JPM, Fortune 500) both up more than 2%.

Energy stocks came under pressure after the government’s weekly inventory report showed smaller-than-expected declines in U.S. supplies of oil and gasoline, raising fears that energy demand is waning.

Monsanto fell sharply after the farm products company reported quarterly sales that disappointed some investors, even as profits rose.

After the market closed, shares of Bed Bath Beyond (BBBY, Fortune 500) surged 8% after the homeware retailer reported quarterly earnings and sales that beat analysts expectations.

Gold prices settled at a nominal all-time high on a combination of a weaker dollar, geopolitical turmoil and general fears about inflation. Oil prices closed higher after rising above $109 a barrel earlier in the session.

“It’s been a pretty mixed day with not much to react to,” said Kate Warne, chief investment strategist with Edward Jones. “I think that’s going to be the case until we start to start to get first-quarter earnings, which will be the main driver next week.”

The first-quarter reporting period unofficially starts Monday when Dow-stock Alcoa reports results. Overall, earnings for the companies in the SP 500 are expected to be up 11% versus last year, according to Thomson Reuters.

Meanwhile, investors continue to keep an eye on budget negotiations in Washington and political turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa.

Congress risks a federal government shutdown if it fails to approve a spending bill by Friday. And market strategists polled by CNNMoney say escalating political turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa and its impact on oil prices is the biggest threat to the market over the long term.

Stocks ended little changed Tuesday as investors focused on the outlook for interest rates after meeting minutes from the Federal Reserve revealed that policymakers at the central bank are divided over inflation.

Looking ahead, the European Central Bank is widely expected to announce plans to hike interest rates when it meets Thursday. In addition, economic reports due Thursday include March same-store sales figures from leading retailers, weekly unemployment claims and wholesale inventories.

Companies: Bed Bath Beyond said it earned $283.5 million, or $1.12 per share, in its fiscal fourth quarter. That’s up about 30% from last year and better than the 97 cent per share profit analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had forecast.

The company said it expects earnings to be somewhere between 58 cents and 61 cents per share in the second quarter. The consensus forecast was 60 cents.

Monsanto (MON, Fortune 500) reported quarterly earnings of $1.87 a share, slightly higher than analysts were expecting. Despite the strong results, shares of the agricultural products giant fell 3%.

Dish Network (DISH, Fortune 500) announced Wednesday that it won ownership of Blockbuster for $320 million in a bankruptcy court auction. Blockbuster put itself up for sale in February after filing for bankruptcy last fall.

Ranked in the last spot on last year’s Fortune 500 list, Blockbuster shares now trade on the pink sheets — at less than 8 cents a piece.

World markets: European stocks rose. Britain’s FTSE 100 gained 0.6%, the DAX in Germany rose 0.6%, and France’s CAC 40 edged up 0.1%.

The European Central Bank is widely expected to hike interest rates by a quarter point when it meets Thursday. China raised interest rates for the fourth time in six months early Tuesday, in an attempt to cool inflation.

Asian markets ended the session mixed. The Shanghai Composite gained 1.1%, and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong added 0.6% after a two-day holiday shutdown. Japan’s Nikkei fell 0.3%.

Currencies and commodities: The dollar fell versus the euro and the British pound but rose against the Japanese yen.

Gold futures for June delivery rose $6 to close at a nominal record high of 1,458.50 an ounce. Silver broke a 31-year high of $39.71 an ounce earlier in the morning.

Oil for May delivery gained 30 cents to settle at $108.65 a barrel. The nation’s supplies of crude rose by 2 million barrels last week, according to the government’s weekly inventory report. The increase matched forecasts from energy research firm Platts.

However, gasoline stocks fell by 400,000 barrels. Analysts had expected gas supplies to have fallen by 2 million barrels. Distillate supplies fell by 200,000 barrels, versus a forecasted decline of 1.5 million.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury fell, pushing the yield up to 3.52% from 3.49% late Tuesday.  To top of page

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