Wall Street Rises as Yellen Stands by Tapering Plans

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U.S. equity markets climbed on Thursday after Janet Yellen suggested the central bank she leads will only slowly scale back its bond-buying program.

Today's Markets

As of 11:24 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 38.4 points, or 0.24%, to 16237, the S&P 500 rose 4.93 point, or 0.27%, to 1850 and the Nasdaq Composite climbed 13.9 points, or 0.32%, to 4306.

Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen stood by the central bank's plans to back off of its vast asset-purchase program in measured steps in testimony to Congress Thursday. The freshly-minted head of one of the world's mightiest central bank's also said she believes bad weather is likely to blame for the string of disappointing economic data over the past couple months, but the Fed will keep a close eye on any developments.

In other economic news, the Commerce Department reported orders for long-lasting goods fell 1% in January, less than the 1.5% drop Wall Street expected. Excluding the transportation segment, orders rose 1.1% , the largest increase since May 2013.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department said number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits rose last week to 348,000 from a downwardly revised 334,000 the week prior. Wall Street was looking for claims to fall to 335,000 from an initially reported 336,000.

Generally speaking, the volatility in the Ukraine did little to affect U.S. equity markets since it was seen as a somewhat isolated protest. That changed Thursday, according to Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group, after it became more clear that Russia would try to tinker with the situation.

Indeed, an unknown group of armed men stormed a parliamentary building in Crimea (seen as Russian-leaning area) and hung a Russian flag on the building, according to a report from the BBC.

Still, not all news out of Europe was bad. Italian business confidence jumped in February, topping expectations. The news sent the country's bond yields sliding to levels not seen since 2006 as the once scary eurozone debt crisis heads deeper into the background.

In corporate news, Best Buy (NASDAQ:BBY) posted a tough holiday quarter, but the results still beat estimates. Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD) revealed dismal holiday results, but the shares zipped higher. Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) unveiled an ambitious plan to manufacture its own batteries across the U.S. J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) shares got a boost as the retailer said a key sales metric rose during the holiday season.

Elsewhere, U.S. crude oil futures dipped 11 points, or 0.11%, to $102.48 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline fell 0.63% to $2.782 a gallon. Gold climbed $2.70, or 0.2%, to $1,331 a troy ounce.