Stocks Edge Higher as Traders Eye Greek Developments
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Wall Street ended the day only slightly higher as traders remained wary of taking big bets with debt talks in Greece dragging on for another session.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 5.8 points, or 0.04%, to 12884, the S&P 500 rose 2.9 points, or 0.22%, to 1350 and the Nasdaq Composite gained 11.8 points, or 0.41%, to 2916.
Talks between Greece, its rescuers and official and private credits progressed on the day. Prime Minister Lucas Papademos met with the country's three main political parties and is reportedly close to closing an agreement for fresh austerity measures demanded by foreign partners. The measures would include a 22% cut in the minimum wage, 150,000 public-sector job cuts by 2015 and substantial supplemental pension reductions, according to Dow Jones Newswires.
However, without anything in the way of an official release from either side, many market participants sat on the sidelines. Still, the Dow is hovering right at its highest level in 52 weeks as strong economic data and relatively upbeat corporate news has helped to bolster sentiment on Wall Street.
Overall, financial shares performed the best. In fact, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), the second largest U.S. bank by assets, rallied more than 3% and led the blue chips. Certain foreign banks like Deutsche Bank (NYSE:DB), Credit Suisse (NYSE:CS) and UBS (NYSE:UBS) tacked on significant gains in U.S. trading as well.
Energy shares like oil behemoth ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) struggled, on the contrary.
Also on the Greek front, the European Central Bank is prepared to exchange its holdings of Greek bonds it obtained on the secondary market for fresh paper with a lower face value, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed officials. The deal would hinge on the country forging an agreement with private creditors on a broader debt restructuring, the report said. If successful, the move by the eurozone's central bank could slice Greece's debt load by roughly $14.6 billion.
Potentially, the ECB and private debt exchanges could be the catalyst necessary to convince International Monetary Fund and European Union officials to sign off of the $171 billion bailout package agreed to in October. On that front, the Eurogroup, which represents finance ministers from every eurozone state, said via Twitter it would meet on Thursday, although it did not specifically state what the goals of the meeting would be.
The clock is ticking for Greece, which has a $19.2 billion debt payment coming up on March 20. While that date is still more than a month away, analysts say actually implementing the debt deals after they are agreed to could take weeks since so many players are involved across the globe.
Stock trading volume has been light over the past couple sessions as market participants have sat on the sidelines to some extent watching the developments.
"There is a little bit of waiting going on," Will Hedden, a sales trader at London-based IG Index said in an interview with FOX Business. Hedden added the euro's strong performance over the past couple days comes as a good sign for the eurozone currency bloc.
Indeed, the single currency rose 0.12% to $1.3276, recently notching its highest mark in eight weeks. The U.S. dollar fell 0.09% against a basket of six world currencies tracked by the dollar index.
Energy futures were to the upside. The benchmark crude oil contract traded in New York rose 30 cents, or 0.3%, to $98.71 a barrel. Wholesale RBOB gasoline jumped 1.6% to $2.975 a gallon.
In metals, gold slumped $17.10, or 0.98%, to $1731 a troy ounce.
Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) revealed a licensing agreement with Viacom (NASDAQ:VIA) that will allow subscribers to its prime service to access thousands television shows on demand.
3M (NYSE:MMM) said Inge Thulin will take over as Chief Executive Officer when George Buckley retires on June 1.
McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), the world's biggest fast-food chain, said its sales at store open at least 13 months grew by 6.7% globally, beating analysts' forecasts of a 5.9% gain.
GameStop (NYSE:GME) announced its first ever dividend of 15 cents per share that will be paid on March 12.
CVS Caremark (NYSE:CVS) posted fourth-quarter profits of 89 cents per share excluding items, which came in-line with analysts' estimates. The pharmacy chain's sales hit $28.3 billion, slightly ahead of the Street's view of $28.12 billion. CVS also said it expects to earn between $3.18 and $3.28 an adjusted share in 2012, easily beating the average estimate of $2.80.
Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) unveiled adjusted quarterly earnings of 94 cents a share on revenue of $8.2 billion, topping expectations of 87 cents on $8.06 billion. Shares were sharply higher in early trading.
European blue chips rose 0.39%, the English FTSE 100 slipped 0.01% to 5,890 and the German DAX climbed 0.18% to 6,766.
In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 rallied 1.1% to 9,016 and the Chinese Hang Seng jumped 1.5% to 21,019.