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Stocks rebound amid downbeat data

Stocks tottered higher Wednesday, as a slide in oil prices and upbeat earnings news eclipsed an unexpectedly steep drop in durable goods orders that raised questions about the strength of the economy.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Stocks tottered higher Wednesday, as a slide in oil prices and upbeat earnings news eclipsed an unexpectedly steep drop in durable goods orders that raised questions about the strength of the economy.

Analysts were pleased by the advance, noting that the market had been oversold in the previous session amid anxiety over corporate results and the broader economic picture. But some observers felt the uptick lacked conviction, and predicted a continuation of the volatility that has dogged stocks so far during this earnings season.

“Earnings season is always volatile,” said Michael Murphy, head trader at Wachovia Securities in Baltimore, noting that historically, April has been the worst month of the year for stocks “The bias seems to be to the upside today, and if we continue to get good news the market can move higher. But I still think it’s likely to remain volatile through the end of the week.”

Oil plummeted $2.59 to $51.61 on the New York Mercantile Exchange in electronic trading following the government’s weekly inventory report, which showed a 5.5 million barrel increase in crude supplies, but a 300,000 barrel draw on gasoline; analysts had been hoping for a build.

The falling price of oil cheered investors, who had been deeply worried by the Commerce Department’s report that orders to U.S. factories for durable goods — big-ticket items that last three years or more — had plunged 2.8 percent in March. Some drop was expected after three months of declines, but the reading was far weaker than economists expected. It renewed concerns that the economy may be entering another “soft patch” as consumers and businesses, jolted by hefty fuel prices, cut back spending.

The Dow Jones industrial average finished the day up 47.67 points, or 0.5 percent, while the broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was up 4.64 points, or 0.4 percent. The technology-rich Nasdaq composite index added 2.99 points, or 0.2 percent.

Analysts were less alarmed by the data, however, saying it reduced the likelihood that the Federal Reserve would take a more aggressive approach to raising short-term interest rates when the policy makers meet next week.

“Some of the numbers and evidence suggest the cyclical expansion is not as strong as people believe, but it is still resolutely good,” said Subodh Kumar, chief investment strategist for CIBC World Markets. “I think that what is happening is the markets are readjusting to more moderate growth.”

On the Dow, Verizon Communications Inc. was up $1.22 at $35.22 after topping Wall Street forecasts with a first-quarter profit of $1.76 billion on a 6.6 percent rise in revenues, thanks to its rapidly growing wireless business.

Boeing Co. rose 66 cents to $59.66 after reporting a 14 percent drop in its first-quarter profits as higher spending on deferred compensation and pension expenses offset gains in its military contracting and airplane manufacturing businesses. Still, the Chicago-based aerospace company earned 64 cents per share, excluding charges; analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial had forecast 55 cents per share. Inc. slid 99 cents to $31.72 after sales rose strongly, but net income sagged 30 percent on tax expenses and a new fee-based membership program that expands the online retailer’s foray into free shipping. Amazon, one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies, earned 18 cents per share, in line with expectations.

Copper producer Phelps Dodge Corp. was down $3.70 at $85.54 even after it soundly beat Wall Street expectations by doubling its first-quarter earnings, year-over-year, thanks to strong copper prices. Profits of $3.83 per share beat estimates by analysts, who expected earnings of $3.35 per share.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei average slid 0.28 percent. In Europe, France’s CAC-40 sank 1.64 percent, Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 1.16 percent and Germany’s DAX index was down 1.06 percent.