IBM Drives Dow Industrials Higher

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Rallying shares of computing giant IBM pushed the blue chips into positive territory, but traders were still cautious over debt talks in Greece.

Today's Markets

As of 3:30 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 74 points, or 0.58%, to 12698, the S&P 500 dipped 1.7 points, or 0.13%, to 1313 and the Nasdaq Composite fell 7.5 points, or 0.27%, to 2781.

The markets are sitting at their highest level since July, bolstered by unexpectedly strong economic data and generally positive corporate earnings. Two big-name companies, however, failed to impress with their fourth-quarter results.

General Electric (NYSE:GE), the U.S. conglomerate and Dow component, posted a per-share operating profit of 39 cents that topped expectations by a penny, but its $38 billion in revenue came in short of the $40 billion analysts forecast.

Search behemoth Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) missed Wall Street's view on the top and bottom lines when it unveiled its results after the closing bell on Thursday. The Mountain View-based company's shares plunged in extended trading.

Other technology majors fared considerably better: Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), IBM (NASDAQ:IBM) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) all topped profit expectations when they posted their results after the closing bell on Thursday. Indeed, the three technology heavyweights combined added more than 50 points to the Dow as their shares jumped, with IBM being responsible for roughly 46 on its own.

Market participants were also keeping a close eye on negotiations between the Greek government and private creditors that are in their third day. Part of the country's rescue package from the European Union hinges on private bondholders taking a loss, something that has been agreed to in principle. The talks are now focused on the technical side of the so-called bond swap deal, in which some holders of Greek debt will voluntarily accept new bonds with different maturities and coupon payments.

However, if the talks fall through, the country may be forced to either push for an involuntary arrangement or risk losing its much-needed bailout tranche. Either case could trigger default conditions on debt insurance or cause an actual default, both of which could slam Europe's banks and financial system, analysts have said. The country's next major debt payment is slated for March.

The euro slumped 0.39% to $1.2919 following a three-day winning streak. The greenback was recently up 0.33% against a basket of six world currencies.

Energy futures were sharply lower. The benchmark crude oil contract fell $2.19, or 2.2%, to $98.20 a barrel. Oil prices have been weak over the past three sessions as traders have trimmed down expectations for the risk posed by terse relations between Iran and the U.S. over that Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf, Olivier Jakob, Managing Director at Swiss-based Petromatrix, wrote in a note to clients on Friday.

Wholesale RBOB gasoline slid 1.1% to $2.784 a gallon. In metals, gold climbed $9.60, or 0.58%, to $1,664 a troy ounce.

On the economic front, U.S. existing home sales rose 5% in December to an annualized rate of 4.61 million units, according to the National Association of Realtors. Economists expected a 4.1% increase to 4.65 million . The housing sector has struggled with high supplies, still tepid demand and tight conditions in lending markets.

Foreign Markets

European blue chips fell 0.33%, the English FTSE 100 slumped 0.22% to 5,729 and the German DAX fell 0.18% to 6,404.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 rallied 1.5% to 8,766 and the Chinese Hang Seng climbed 0.84% to 20,110.