Wall Street up as data show economy still growing

RetailReuters

Stocks advanced on Wednesday after stronger-than-expected employment and service-sector data in the United States, but a gloomier outlook in China and Europe weighed on commodity prices and hit energy and materials shares.

Data showed growth in the U.S. services sector picked up in September, defying economists' expectations for a slight decrease, while last month, the private sector added more jobs than forecast. The data comes ahead of the closely watched monthly U.S. non-farm payrolls report on Friday.

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"China is slowing down, and we are as well, but we still have growth," said Frank Lesh, a futures analyst and broker at FuturePath Trading LLC in Chicago. "The real question is: 'Does Europe drag China down and us with it?'"

The S&P's consumer discretionary sector index shot up 1 percent. It was the best-performing S&P 500 sector, helped by stocks like Amazon , up 1.3 percent at $253.88, and homebuilders like PulteGroup , up 5.7 percent at $16.45.

But prices of crude and metals slid, pressuring stocks in the energy and basic materials sectors, after the euro zone looked unable to dodge a recession based on a reading of purchasing managers indexes last month and China's slowdown looked likely to extend to a seventh quarter.

The S&P energy index fell 0.9 percent. Chevron Corp lost 0.9 percent to $116.85 and dragged on the Dow. Exxon Mobil dipped 0.1 percent to $91.65.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 35.82 points, or 0.27 percent, to 13,518.18. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index added 7.51 points, or 0.52 percent, to 1,453.26. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 19.30 points, or 0.62 percent, at 3,139.34.

Shares of Hewlett-Packard Co fell as much as 8.8 percent to $15.63 - the lowest since April 2003 - and ranked as the heaviest weight on the Dow after the company forecast that revenue at its enterprise services unit would fall between 11 percent and 13 percent in 2013. In early afternoon trading, HP's stock was down 7.6 percent at $15.83.

In contrast, Best Buy shares gained 3.8 percent to $17.62 as founder Richard Schulze and at least four private-equity firms started examining its books, in early steps toward what could become an $11 billion buyout.

The S&P 500 ended September with its fourth-straight month of gains, adding roughly 11 percent since the end of May.

"The market has lifted meaningfully since June 1st, and it has taken the last couple of weeks to consolidate those gains," said Jim Russell, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Cincinnati. "I think it will be another day of flat to slightly down price action."

The proportion of bullish U.S. investment advisors fell below 50 percent for the first time in five weeks, hitting 46.8 percent in the latest week versus 51 percent the previous week, according to a survey by Investors Intelligence on Wednesday.

Investors often see bullishness as a contrarian indicator, meaning that when bullishness is running high, the market may be due for a pullback. Investors Intelligence said a reading of 55 can often signal a market top.

"Backing off without entering that territory suggests another run up to highs is still possible," Investors Intelligence said in its report. "However, with the averages more than doubling in less than four years, the rally is certainly mature and likely approaching its end."

Shares of Family Dollar Stores rose 3.5 percent to $68.30 after the discount chain posted a higher quarterly profit.

Not all was rosy, though, on the earnings front. Monsanto shares fell 1.8 percent to $88.91 after the agribusiness group posted a fourth-quarter loss during a seasonally sluggish sales period.

(Editing by Jan Paschal)