Despite a big winter storm barreling down on Wall Street, investors were in a good mood Friday morning as a variety of encouraging data points on the U.S. and Chinese economies reversed the pessimism over Europe earlier in the week. The U.S. trade deficit fell by more than 20% in December -- its biggest drop in four years -- as a dollar weakening against the euro finally started to drop imports and boost exports. Chinese imports and exports accelerated in January, pointing to greater economic activity levels in the emerging nation. That good news was enough to push the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) up 67 points by 10:45 a.m. EST, taking it past the 14,000 mark once more.
Within the Dow, tech stocks led the way higher, with Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) climbing 1.7%. News that HP would put limits on its suppliers, calling for stricter enforcement of employment rules for student workers in China, is a victory for socially responsible investors. But the other big angle is the effect that Dell's going private will have on HP. Calls for HP to break up have been getting louder lately, but it's unclear whether the company's strategy is coherent enough to give split-off units a firm vision of where they'd go after a breakup.
Elsewhere, Coinstar (NASDAQ: CSTR ) fell more than 7% despite beating earnings estimates for the fourth quarter. Last night, the company said that revenue and profit for the current first quarter would come in well below what analysts had been expecting due to fewer newly released DVDs and the need for greater investment in its Redbox Instant video-streaming service. Reading between the lines, though, it's apparent that Netflix's (NASDAQ: NFLX ) success in gathering subscribers is having an adverse impact on competitors like Coinstar, and Coinstar will need to respond aggressively following delays in getting Redbox Instant running to its full potential.
Finally, MGIC Investment (NYSE: MTG ) rose nearly 2% after releasing its latest monthly operating results. The mortgage insurance company reported new-policy volume roughly in line with the previous month, but what may be moving shares today is news that Bermuda insurer Arch Capital plans to buy assets from bankrupt MGIC competitor PMI Group and enter the U.S. mortgage insurance business. With the housing market improving, we're likely to see more players return to mortgage insurance as the threat of underwater loans recedes.
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