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Friday, 17 February 2012 | 00:00
DJ30 PointChange: +123.13 Level: 12904.08 NASDAQ PointChange: +44.02 Level: 2959.85 NQ100 PercentChange: +1.4 R2K PercentChange: +2.0 SP400 PercentChange: +1.5 SP500 PointChange: +14.81 Level: 1358.04 NASDAQ-Adv:1945 Dec: 602 NYSE-Adv:2293 Dec: 750

[BRIEFING.COM] Stocks staged a steady ascent that settled with the S&P 500 at its best level in about nine months. The effort was broad-based, but lacked share volume.

Although a bullish bias prevailed, action opened with the broad market near the neutral line. Participants were initially somewhat divided on how to respond to the latest wave of headlines. Without any reports of progress traders continued to express concern about potential problems in delivering bailout funds to Greece after it became apparent earlier in the week that eurozone officials are skepitcal of the flagging country's commitment to newly approved austerity measures.

Morning sentiment was also challenged by the threat that analysts at Moody's might reduce their ratings on a bevy of major banks and financial institutions, including Bank of America (BAC 8.09, +0.31), Citigroup (C 32.71, +0.99), JPMorgan Chase (JPM 38.00, +0.60), and Goldman Sachs (GS 114.74, +1.57).

There was a substantial dose of traders to digest, too. Overall, though, it proved pleasing.

The latest weekly initial jobless claims count totaled 348,000, which is less than 365,000 initial claims that had been broadly expected to follow the upwardly revised prior week tally of 361,000. Continuing claims made a significant decline to 3.43 million from 3.53 million.

Housing starts improved in January to an annualized rate of 699,000 from an upwardly revised rate of 689,000 in the prior month. That surpassed the pace of 671,000 housing starts that had been broadly expected. Building permits made a modest improvement to an annualized rate of 676,000 from a downwardly revised rate of 671,000, but that was on par with what had been widely expected.

Producer prices proved more mixed. Total producer prices in January were up 0.1%, which is less than the 0.3% increase that had been broadly predicted, but core producer prices climbed at a clip of 0.4% to double the increase that had been widely expected.

After the open, the Philadelphia Fed Survey for February rang in at 10.2. That marked strong improvement over the 7.3 posted in the prior month and narrowly surpassed the 10.0 that had been expected, on average, among economists polled by

Once the data was out of the way stocks engaged in a steady ascent that was initially led by the financial sector. Financials were able to overcome early weakness associated with the threat of a downgrade to many of the sector's major constituents to collectively climb to a 1.6% gain.

The Financial sector's effort was matched by the Tech sector, which is the largest sector by market weight. A break-out by Microsoft (MSFT 31.28, +1.24) to a four-year high made the stock a leader among tech issues. It also helped the Nasdaq move ahead of its counterparts.

Although short-covering likely played a part, General Motors (GM 27.17, +2.24) shares also staged an impressive move that settled with the stock at its best level since summer. The automaker's earnings fell short of the consensus estimate, but that was countered by a strong revenue figure and news of increased market share.

As market participants returned to riskier assets the dollar dropped out of favor after it had been bid higher in the early going. By session's end the euro had climbed 0.6% against the greenback, while the sterling pound advanced 0.7% against it.

Treasuries also traded lower. Their slide sent the yield on the benchmark 10-year Note back up to almost 2.0% after it had been at a weekly low near 1.90% just yesterday.

Apathy continues to detract from share volume. More specifically, a lack of participation today kept total share volume on the NYSE near 800 million, which is on par with trends of the past several months.

Advancing Sectors: Materials +1.7%, Financials +1.6%, Tech +1.6%, Energy +1.2%, Utilities +1.1%, Industrials +0.8%, Consumer Staples +0.7%, Health Care +0.7%, Telecom +0.7%, Consumer Discretionary +0.5%
Declining Sectors: (None)

Source: Briefing

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