U.S. stock markets are looking past the pending sequester on Friday to more positive economic news, pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) and the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) up about 1.4% each. Durable-goods orders, excluding the volatile aircraft market, grew 1.9%, showing a continuation of slow and steady growth in the economy. Perhaps more importantly, the National Association of Realtors announced that its index of pending home sales rose 4.5% in January to 105.9, the highest level since April 2010. Housing is one of the keys to an economic recovery, and growth in home sales or construction is great for the economy.
All 30 of the Dow's components are up in late trading, but JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) leads the pack with a3.5% gain. Ben Bernanke was on Capitol Hill today, and his testimony gave a boost to bank stocks, which took a hit after Fed minutes released last week gave the impression that quantitative easing may be coming to an end. Bernanke's testimony suggested that he was more cautious about raising interest rates than the market may have thought, and that's why we're seeing financials move higher today.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) was another big winner today, rising 2.1%. Today the company released an update to Office 365, its Office cloud service, adding new features for corporate users. Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) also hinted that it is working on lower-cost Windows Phone devices in the future. Microsoft and Nokia are fighting an uphill battle against Google and Apple, but lower-cost phones may attract consumers to the new platform.
Outside the Dow, Target was a notable mover after net income fell 2% last quarter. Sales rose 7% -- a good sign as competition heats up among retailers -- but it wasn't enough to hold the stock up today. Shares are down 1.3%, and it looks like both Target and Wal-Mart are in for a rough first half of 2013.
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