Stocks Edge Up as Data Overshadow Euro Worries


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The markets posted tepid gains Friday, ending the week in the green, after a batch of strong data on the U.S. economy helped traders overcome worries about Europe.

Today's Markets 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 35.2 points, or 0.25%, to 14090, the S&P 500 climbed 3.5 points, or 0.23%, to 1518 and the Nasdaq Composite gained 9.6 points, or 0.3%, to 3170.

For the week, the Dow climbed 0.64%, the S&P 500 gained 0.18% and the Nasdaq rose 0.25%.

The markets all ended February higher, with the S&P posting its fourth-straight monthly advance.

On Friday, the Dow tumbled as much as 116 points in early action, before coming back to the flat line and then finally rising. In recent trading, seven of ten major sectors were still in the greeb. Health-care and consumer discretionary shares performed the best, while utility and energy stocks broadly declined.

Strong Data Help Offset Euro Worries

A round of generally strong data helped lift sentiment.

The Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing PMI gauge rose to 54.2 in February from 53.1 in January, topping estimates of a reading of 52.5. Readings above 50 point to expansion while those below indicate contraction.

A separate report from Reuters and the University of Michigan showed consumer sentiment unexpectedly rising in late February. The closely-watched measure climbed to 77.6 from an earlier reading of 76.3, beating expectations of no change.

A report from the Labor Department showed consumer incomes plunging 3.6% in January from December -- the biggest drop since 1993 and worst than estimates of a 2.2% decline. However, personal spending edged up 0.2%, which was in-line with expectations. January was the first month across-the-board increases in payroll taxes kicked in. Indeed, analysts chalked up the big drop in income to special factors, including the tax hikes, and accelerated dividends in December.

However, economists at Nomura warned that February could be another tough month for personal incomes, with consumers still adjusting to lower income from the payroll tax hike and surging gasoline prices.

European Worries Persist

The euro slumped 0.47% to $1.2996 -- its weakest level against the greenback in two months. Meanwhile, the Euro Stoxx 50, which tracks eurozone blue chips, slumped 0.64%.

The move lower in Europe came as traders parsed through a deluge of weak data from the continent. The unemployment rate in the eurozone edged up 0.1-percentage point to 11.9% in February, with 19 million people out of work across the 17-member currency bloc. The report also highlights the wide gaps between the economies there. Germany, the bloc's powerhouse, has an unemployment rate around 5%, but Spain and Greece are more than five times that.

A report indicating the U.K. manufacturing sector unexpectedly skidded back into contraction territory in February also left traders jittery.

Oftentimes, sharp moves lower in the euro puts downward pressure on dollar-traded commodities. The benchmark U.S. oil contract dropped $1.37, or 1.5%, to $90.68 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline rose 0.54% to $3.129 a gallon. In metals, gold fell $5.80, or 0.37%, to $1,572 a troy ounce.

On the corporate front, Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) posted better-than-expected quarterly results, sending shares zooming higher. The big retailer also said it ended talks with its founder over a potential take-private deal. Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN) revealed after the close of trading Thursday that it had dismissed its chief executive, Andrew Mason.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 fell 0.64% to 2617, the English FTSE 100 rose 0.28% to 6379 and the German DAX dipped 0.43% to 7708.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 ticked up by 0.41% to 11606 and the Chinese Hang Seng fell 0.61% to 22880.