Stocks Aim for New High, But Europe May Be in the Way

The Dow will open today’s session just 12 points shy of its highest level this year, as a modest rally Tuesday tacked four points on to the blue-chip average, which finished at 12878. The Nasdaq was up fractionally, while the S&P 500 gave up about a point.

U.S. futures are firmly higher this morning, but the strength of Europe is in doubt.

Official figures show the 17-nation eurozone economy contracted by 0.3% in the final months of last year, as many individual countries, like Italy, are now officially in recession.  An official recession means two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth.  Italy’s economy, the third largest in the eurozone, contracted 0.7% in the fourth quarter of 2011. Portugal and the Netherlands are in recession as well.

By comparison, the latest data show the U.S. economy expanded by 2.8% in the fourth quarter of last year.

U.S. retail sales data released yesterday for January disappointed  many investors.  One of the main reasons was a 1.1% decline in sales of new cars and trucks.  The news surprised many analysts who thought the auto recovery had been stronger and the decline may mean better auto deals are on the way, just in time for President’s Day weekend.  Comerica Bank found that in the final months of last year, car buyers spent an average $1,050 less on their new wheels, and now many dealers may have to up the incentives to continue driving cars off their lots.

Meanwhile, on this day after Valentine’s Day, it turns out women want a man with a mortgage.  A new survey by Harris Interactive for Trulia Real Estate finds that about a third of single women -- and about a fifth of single men -- say they'd prefer to date a homeowner than a renter.  Both sexes agree that master bathrooms, walk-in closets, and gourmet kitchens are among the most important rooms in the house.