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The markets inched higher, although were well off session highs, as traders weighed enforcement action against several major banks, upbeat earnings and encouraging economics news.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 7.4 points, or 0.06%, to 12,271, the S&P 500 gained 0.25 point, or 0.02%, to 1,314 and the Nasdaq Composite climbed 16.7 points, or 0.61%, to 2,762. The FOX 50 edged lower by 1 point to 926.
The markets gyrated between gains and losses Wednesday amid a deluge of financial news. Consumer discretionary shares like Nike (NYSE:NKE) and Coach (NYSE:COH) had the best performance on the day.
The banking sector was under pressure, however, after the Federal Reserve, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Office of Thrift Supervision levied enforcement actions against several large banks. The actions will result in tighter regulations on mortgage and foreclosure practices, which some analysts fear could hurt the banks' bottom lines.
Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), Citigroup (NYSE:C) JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) were among those banks that were subject to enforcement actions by regulators.
JPMorgan -- the first major bank to report earnings -- unveiled first-quarter profits of $1.28 a share, or $5.56 billion, on revenues of $25.8 billion. Wall Street forecast the second largest U.S. bank to earn $1.16 for the quarter.
The bank benefited from strength in its credit card division, but "extraordinarily high losses" in its mortgage business somewhat offset the results, Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase chief executive officer, said in a release.
On the economic front, U.S. retail sales were up 0.4% in March, according to the Commerce Department, narrowly missing Wall Street's forecast for a rise of 0.5%. Excluding auto sales, retail sales gained 0.8% for the month.
Analysts have raised concern that high gasoline prices could dampen consumer spending, but those fears have not yet come to fruition.
"Gasoline prices rose [24 cents] in March and in just the [first] two weeks of April have risen another [19 cents], thus keeping all eyes on whether the recent health in consumer spending is sustainable," wrote Peter Boockvar, managing director at Miller Tabak + Co., in a research note.
The Federal Reserve released its beige book Wednesday, saying the jobs market improved in most of its districts, and inflation remained subdued despite soaring food and energy costs.
"The Beige Book was modestly upbeat - with some broadening in the recovery across industries and districts," wrote Brian Bethune, chief U.S. financial economist at IHS Global Insight, in a research note.
Oil plummeted by more than $6.00 in the first two days of the week after closing at 2-1/2 year highs last week. However, crude ticked higher in trading on Wednesday.
Light, sweet crude traded higher by 86 cents, or 0.81%, to $107.11. Prices at the pump continue ticking higher. A gallon of gasoline costs $3.81 on average nationwide, up from $3.56 last month and $2.86 last year.
Oil inventories jumped 1.63 million barrels to 359.3 million barrels in the prior week, according to the Energy Department -- greater than the 1 million build analysts forecast. Stocks at a key oil hub in Cushing, Oklahoma hit an all-time high of 41.9 million barrels.
However, gasoline stocks plunged 7 million barrels, nearly 10 times what analysts were expecting, ahead of the summer driving season where gasoline demand generally ramps up.
The impact of the report has been fairly dulled in recent weeks as traders have focused on potential supply disruptions from the Middle East and North Africa.
The dollar gained 0.12% against a group of world currencies, and the euro lost 0.15% on the greenback.
In metals, gold was higher by $2.00, or 0.14%, to $1,456 a troy once after dropping nearly 1% in the prior session.
Deutsche Boerse will sweeten its deal to acquire NYSE Euronext (NYSE:NYX) after the Nasdaq OMX Group (NASDAQ:NDAQ) and IntercontinentalExchange (NYSE:ICE) made a rival bid for the parent of the New York Stock Exchange at a significant premium to the original deal agreed to in February, sources tell FOX Business' Charlie Gasparino.
Deutsche Bank (NYSE:DB) is mulling plans to change the legal status of its main U.S. subsidiary in a bid to avoid new regulations that would require the German-based company to inject capital in its U.S. branch, according to a report by Reuters, citing a source.
American Airlines, a subsidiary of AMR (NYSE:AMR), filed an antitrust lawsuit against Travelport and Orbitz (NYSE:OWW), alleging the companies engaged in "exclusionary and anticompetitive business practices."
Schneider Electric denied a report by The Wall Street Journal that it had made a $30 billion preliminary bid for Tyco (NYSE:TYC).
Zoom Technologies (NASDAQ:ZOOM) revealed plans to develop mobile phones to sell in the global market after chip maker Qualcomm (NADAQ:QCOM) granted the Chinese-based company new wireless patent licenses. Zoom shares surged more than 60% after the announcement.
Toyota (NYSE:TM) will halt production at five plants in Europe from late April to early May as it grapples with part shortages after the disaster in Japan.
Riverbed Technology (NASDAQ:RVBD) said it sees its first-quarter 2011 in the range of 7 cents and 8 cents a share, up from 1 cent in the same period last year. Shares were sharply higher as a result.
Solitario Exploration & Royalty (NYSE:XPL) plans on making a public offering of 3.4 million common stock, sending shares lower amid concerns the move would dilute current shareholders. The exploration company plans to use the proceeds from the sale to finance futures studies and exploration in Mexico and Peru.
Global shares were mostly higher after falling on Tuesday.
The English FTSE 100 was up 0.77% to 6,010, the French CAC 40 gained 0.75% to 4,006 and the German DAX jumped 1.1% to 7,178.
In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 climbed 0.9% to 9,641 and the Chinese Hang Seng traded higher by 0.66% to 24,135.