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After a lackluster start to the second quarter, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) bagged its best week since the beginning of March last Friday, gaining 180 points, or 1.4%. Strong earnings from companies including Microsoft, Coca-Cola, and Travelers (NYSE: TRV ) buoyed the rally, and the insurance giant posted a particularly impressive performance, beating earnings expectations by 32% and raising its dividend 12%. Going into the final of week of April, earnings season continues in full force as nine more Dow components report, including ExxonMobil, Procter & Gamble, and Caterpillar.
A number of important economic reports also come out this week and could move markets. On Tuesday, we'll learn more about the housing situation when the Case-Shiller 20-City Index releases its February findings, and the Census Bureau provides March data on new-home sales. The market is expecting the Case-Shiller to continue to drop, this time by 3.4%, slightly less than January's 3.8% rate. In the last report, only Miami, Washington, D.C., and Phoenix showed increases in housing prices. New housing starts, meanwhile, are expected to increase slightly from 313,000 in February to 320,000 last month.
Also on Tuesday, the Conference Board will report on consumer confidence. The market is looking for a figure of 69.5, following 70.2 in March. Earlier in April, a similar report by the University of Michigan came in 0.5 points below the previous month.
On Wednesday, we'll get a beat on the manufacturing sector with the durable-goods orders report, which is expected to drop 1.9% from February's figure -- which itself rose 2.4%. And on Friday, the Department of Commerce will provide GDP figures for the first quarter. Analysts are expecting a 2.6% growth rate following a 3% figure for the fourth quarter of 2011.
Over the weekend, several news stories came out affecting Dow stocks. Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) will probably feel the effects of a New York Times investigative report revealing that the retailer used a massive bribery campaign totaling more than $24 million in Mexico, its largest foreign subsidiary and home to 20% of its stores, to win permits and favors. When top-level executives at the company's headquarters were made privy to the dirty tricks, they decided to shut down the investigation rather than discipline those involved or report the wrongdoing to authorities. The scandal leaves the company in legal hot water, with violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act likely, and is far from the first time Wal-Mart's been at the center of public scorn. The chain has previously been accused of shady labor practices and anti-competitive tactics, and last year the Supreme Court threw out a class action suit accusing the retail giant of gender discrimination.
In an unrelated legal matter, a New York federal court is taking another look at a $20 million settlement that Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) directors paid to shareholders as a result of a lawsuit accusing the company of paying too much to acquire Merrill Lynch. The court ordered both parties involved in the settlement to justify its terms, and one set of plaintiffs said damages could reach $5 billion.
Finally, JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) appears ready to sell its U.S. metal concentrate trading unit, a move that comes in response to a Federal Reserve mandate to shrink its commodities trading operation. The bank could announce a deal as soon as today.
Make it count
Earnings season is peaking this week, and our expert stock-pickers have prepared an extra-special free report on "5 Stocks Investors Need To Watch This Earnings Season." It has some big names you know, and some other companies that'll key you in on developing stories and other market-moving trends that will play out over the rest of the year. Check out the video before earnings season passes you by. You can watch it right now.