Mixed Feelings on Wall Street Despite Upbeat Data

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U.S. markets were mixed Wednesday as economic hopes were boosted by a bullish regional manufacturing report, but talk of Iran stopping oil exports to parts of Europe and the latest developments in the sovereign debt crisis gave some traders pause.

Today's Markets

As of 11:29 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 29.41 points, or 0.23%, to 12848.87, the S&P 500 rose 3.26 points, or 0.24%, to 1353.74 and the Nasdaq Composite jumped 20.05 points, or 0.69%, to 2952.04.

The muddled picture on Wall Street comes during a mostly upbeat stretch for the U.S. financial markets as the blue chips have closed higher in five of the last six sessions, leaving them less than 10% from their all-time highs set in October 2007. The markets landed mostly unchanged on Tuesday after a late-day rally wiped out an earlier Greece-fuled selloff.

The debt crisis in the eurozone has been a major driver of U.S. and international equity markets over the past months, and has come acutely into focus as Greece has raced to stave off a default that could potentially deal a painful blow to the currency bloc. A message of support from China, saying the world's second-biggest economy is "ready to get more deeply involved in participating in solving the European debt issue" provided a jolt of confidence earlier to the markets.

"The prospect of Chinese largesse being liberally applied to stem this never-ending crisis is a powerful tonic for beleaguered investors," Rupert Osborne, a futures dealer at London-based IG Index said in an e-mail.

On top of the comments from China, sentiment was also boosted by news reports that leaders representing Greece's main political parties are going to promptly provide the country's rescuers with a written pledge to enact austerity measures. However, it was not immediately clear exactly when the letters would arrive. Additionally, Reuters reported early Wednesday that European finance ministers are considering delaying Greece's bailout, while still helping the country avert a default in March.

Despite those developments, the closely-watched euro fell 0.44% to $1.3070.

There were a handful of mostly upbeat economic reports for the markets to digest.

According to the New York Federal Reserve, manufacturing in the New York region picked up in early February. The Empire State gauge soared from 13.5 in January to 19.3 this month -- the highest level since June 2010 and well above forecasts for a more modest rise to 15.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Home Builders said U.S. home builder sentiment jumped from 25 in January to 29 this month, marking the fifth straight monthly rise and the highest reading since May 2007. The report helped boost shares of stocks like KB Home (NYSE:KBH) and Lowe's (NYSE:LOW).

Industrial production, which tracks output at factories and utilities, meanwhile, remained unchanged in January. Economists were expecting a rise of 0.7% for the month.

The Federal Reserve is also set to release minutes from its last policy meeting in the afternoon. Market participants will be looking for clues as to whether the central bank plans any further asset purchases to boost the economy.

Meanwhile, Wall Street continues to keep a close eye on the geopolitical risk posed by Iran, which has been ratcheting up its rhetoric with the West. Iranian state media reported Iran is planning to stop oil exports to six European countries, but the country later denied the report, according to Reuters. Still, the news helped boost crude oil, which was recently trading up 97 cents, or 0.96%, to $102.05 a barrel.

In metals, gold jumped $18.30, or 1.06%, to $1,736.00 a troy ounce.

Led by Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), tech stocks continue to drive the Nasdaq Composite higher. The iPhone and iPad maker soared another 2% to fresh all-time highs and is edging closer to achieving a $500 billion market cap.

On the corporate front, Kellogg (NYSE:K) unveiled plans acquire Procter & Gamble’s (NYSE:PG) Pringles business for $2.7 billion in a transaction it expects to complete by summer 2012 pending regulatory approval. This comes after an accounting scandal scuttled Diamond Foods' (NYSE:DMND) bid to acquire the snack brand.

Foreign Markets

The English FTSE 100 fell 0.17% to 5889.68, the French CAC 40 gained 0.24% to 3383.65 and the German DAX advanced 0.36% to 6752.29.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 soared 2.3% to 9260 and the Chinese Hang Seng zoomed 2.14% higher to 21365.20.