Last updated: March 13, 2013 8:32 pm

US shares buoyed by economic optimism

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US stocks edged higher on Wednesday, bolstered by two well-received economic reports that suggested to investors the country’s economy was strengthening.

The S&P 500, which traded lower for much of the morning session, rose 0.1 per cent to 1,554.52 in New York.

The gains came as investors weighed economic reports, which showed US business inventories grew at their fastest pace in January since May 2011.

Data released earlier in the day showed that retail sales in February rose strongly.

Analysts at Barclays said the retail sales report “struck an unmistakably strong tone” about the health of the US economy.

But they warned that rising gas prices and the impact of tax increases on most Americans, taking effect from the start of the year, may cause sales to slow in the coming months.

Five of 10 major industry groups on the benchmark traded in positive territory with the consumer discretionary sector rising 0.5 per cent to lead the way.

Walgreen , the US drugstore chain, was a top riser on the benchmark after its shares were upgraded to “buy” from “hold” by analysts at UBS.

Walgreen climbed 4.2 per cent, touching a 12-month high, to $42.78 as the analysts said they thought the stock was undervalued.

Walmart , the world’s largest retailer by sales, rose 0.1 per cent to $73.65 while shares in discount stores such as Dollar Tree , which was 0.9 per cent higher at $45.05, fared slightly better.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed fractionally higher to 14,455.28, marking the first time that the blue chip index has risen in nine consecutive sessions since 1996.

Boeing , the aircraft manufacturer and Dow component, gained 0.7 per cent to $84.75.

The losses for Boeing came as the main US aviation regulator gave the go-ahead to test its grounded 787 fleet .

Refiners remained in focus during the day with shares in Valero Energy losing 4.7 per cent to $43.42 to rank among the worst performing on the S&P 500.

Valero and other US refiners, such as Western Refining and Tesoro Corp , have come under pressure in recent trading sessions as the price of credits generated by the production or import of renewables has risen. Western Refining dropped 6.1 per cent to $35, while Tesoro declined 3.1 per cent.

Companies in the sector often rely on the purchase of those credits since they are required to blend a certain quota of renewable fuel into gasoline under US law.

Analysts at Citi said the surging prices in the credits could lead gas prices to rise, which may have the knock-on effect of catching the attention of policy makers and causing them to consider altering regulations.

The Nasdaq Composite index climbed 0.1 per cent to 3,245.12. Shares in Netflix rose 5.6 per cent to $192.31 after the internet streaming and home DVD delivery company said it had signed an agreement with Facebook that would allow customers the ability to link their accounts.

Shares in the social networking company, meanwhile, slipped 2.6 per cent to $27.10.

Shares of Silver Spring Networks , the US software services company, jumped 29.4 per cent to $22.00 on its first day of trading.

The company raised $81m after pricing shares in its initial public offering at $17.

Coach , the leather goods retailer, moved 1.8 per cent higher to $49.67 as Citigroup analysts raised their rating on its shares from “hold” to “buy”.

Oliver Chen, Citi analyst, said: “Coach stock has transitioned from a growth stock to value. We are upgrading [Coach], as we believe the stock appropriately prices in caution and has good upside potential.”

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