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Saturday, 25 February 2012 | 00:27
DJ30 PointChange: -1.74 Level: 12982.95 NASDAQ PointChange: +6.77 Level: 2963.75 NQ100 PercentChange: +0.4 R2K PercentChange: -0.3 SP400 PercentChange: +0.0 SP500 PointChange: +2.28 Level: 1365.74 NASDAQ-Adv:1140 Dec: 1401 NYSE-Adv:1630 Dec: 1360

[BRIEFING.COM] A modest advance by stocks put the S&P 500 at its best level in about 10 months, the Dow at its highest level in nearly four years, and the Nasdaq at its highest point in more than a decade, but gains were checked by some afternoon selling.

Consistent with recent sessions, early trade was relatively choppy as many market participants showed skepticism about the stock market's ability to keep climbing without consolidative activity following its climb in recent weeks -- the S&P 500 scored a 0.3% gain this week, booking its seventh weekly advance in eight.

Early headlines had little, if any, influence over the direction of broad market trade. As such, better-than-expected earnings from AIG (AIG 28.41, +0.42), Gap (GPS 22.57, -0.95), and JC Penney (JCP 41.72, -0.21) saw mixed reactions.

In a similar vein, there was hardly a reaction to economic data that featured an improvement in the Consumer Sentiment Survey for February from the University of Michigan to 75.3 from the 72.5 that had been posted in the preliminary reading. Economists polled by had expected, on average, that the Survey would improve to just 73.0. Released just minutes later, new home sales during January were said to have hit an annual pace of 321,000 units, which is down from the upwardly revised rate of 324,000 units set in the prior month, but better than the rate of 315,000 units that had been broadly expected.

Despite listlessness in the early going, stocks eventually worked their way higher. The move initially encountered resistance, but stocks were able to overcome it in a second attempt. That allowed the broad market to add incrementally to its multi-month intraday high. Although tech stocks traded with relative strength and settled with a 0.6% gain, the sector never really displayed the leadership necessary to drive a broad market rally.

Strength in the tech sector was partly offset by weakness in the highly influential Financial sector, which lagged for virtually the entire session and settled with a 0.4% loss.

As stocks appeared unable to extend their climb some participants opted to take some profits, dropping the S&P 500 to the flat line before it could find support.

Share volume this session was paltry, reflecting apathy among investors. The final tally on the NYSE was barely 640 million shares. Although volume trends have been low for several months, some question whether or not stocks can continue to climb if there isn't conviction among market participants.

Oil prices extended their climb again -- the energy component closed at a new multi-month high of $109.76 per barrel for a 1.7% gain. That move helped drive the CRB Index to a 0.8% gain for the day and 2.7% gain for the week. That stands as the CRB's best one-week performance of the past two months.

In the backdrop, the dollar dropped to a new two-month low against a basket of major foreign currencies. It was especially weak against the euro, which was quoted at $1.345 for a gain of about 0.6% by session's end.

Advancing Sectors: Tech +0.6%, Utilities +0.5%, Health Care +0.4%, Energy +0.4%, Consumer Staples +0.3%
Unchanged: Materials, Industrials
Declining Sectors: Telecom -0.1%, Consumer Discretionary -0.1%, Financials -0.4%

Source: Briefing

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