Following the worst decline the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) had seen in four months, stocks rebounded today as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke eased fears that the Central Bank would stop buying $85 billion worth of Treasuries and mortgage bonds, at least in 2013.
These figures were also supported by more robust economic figures in housing and consumer confidence. The Case-Shiller Home Price Index showed that home prices advanced 6.8% in December in the 20 largest cities, which is higher than analysts had estimated, and points to a continuing rebound in the housing sector. Likewise, consumer confidence improved to 69.6 from a revised 58.4 in January for its biggest gain since Nov. 2011.
All told, the broad-based S&P 500 advanced 9.09 points (0.61%) to close at 1,496.94. Here's a quick glimpse at today's three standouts within the S&P 500.
Without question, do-it-yourself home-improvement chain Home Depot (NYSE: HD ) helped drag the index higher after reporting better-than-expected fourth-quarter results and boosting its dividend and share repurchase program. On the heels of an improved housing outlook, Home Depot reported a 14% rise in revenue to $18.2 billion and a 7% improvement in same-store sales. Earnings also skyrocketed 29% to $1 billion. Perhaps the biggest boost to the stock, which finished up 5.7% on the day, was the fact that Home Depot raised its quarterly dividend by 34% to $0.39 from $0.29 and authorized a buyback worth as much as $17 billion through 2015. Hitting both sides of the aisle -- consumer remodels and commercial construction -- Home Depot looks poised to head even higher.
Also not surprising given Home Depot's strong results and the impressive Case-Shiller figures is that homebuilders chalked up a fantastic day. Both PulteGroup (NYSE: PHM ) and D.R. Horton (NYSE: DHI ) , the nation's largest homebuilder, tacked on more than 4%, with PulteGroup claiming top honors in the sector, up 5.7%. With inventory levels having dropped to multiyear lows, homebuilders finally have some pricing power, which should translate to margin expansion. For a company like PulteGroup, which only recently turned profitable after five years of losses, it could mean the beginning of a big rebound.
Finally, struggling hardware company Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) received a boost of 3.8% from investors after Deutsche Bank cited HP, among seven other tech stalwarts, as a smart way to play the slow growth economy. HP crushed Wall Street's earnings projections last week, but we have to keep in mind that its turnaround is still far from over and it's likely that more hiccups will be expected along the way. On the flipside, HP's still a cash-generating machine with plenty of partnerships that shouldn't be overlooked.
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