Stocks climb back into record territory after housing data, retailer earnings; Lowe's gains

The Associated Press

Trader Ronald Madarasz works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014.The stock market is little changed as investors pick over more earnings reports from retailers and other U.S. companies. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

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By STEVE ROTHWELL, AP Markets Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks rose, pushing the Standard & Poor's 500 index back into record territory, as investors assessed earnings reports from retailers and other companies. Home builders gained after sales of new homes jumped in January at fastest pace in more than five years.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 rose four points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,849 as of 12:01 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 40 points, or 0.3 percent, to 16,220. The Nasdaq composite rose 23 points, or 0.6 percent, to 4,311.

HOME HELP: Several home builder stocks rose sharply after the government reported that U.S. sales of new homes rebounded last month. That's a hopeful signs after a slowdown in the housing market last year caused by higher interest rates. PulteGroup rose 70 cents, or 3.4 percent, to $21.38 and Lennar rose $1.58, or 3.7 percent, to $43.84.

HOME SPENDING: Lowe's climbed $2.65, or 5.5 percent, to $50.78. The company said its net income rose 6 percent in the most recent quarter as the home-improvement retailer continued to benefit from a recovery in the housing market.

BOOKING A PROFIT: Barnes & Noble rose 73 cents, or 4.3 percent, to $18.50 after reporting a third-quarter profit. Cost cuts at the company's Nook e-reader unit and elsewhere helped offset declining revenue. Barnes & Noble has been trying to turn itself around as competition from discount stores and online retailers gets tougher and consumers shift to buying digital books.

OTHER RETAILERS: Abercrombie & Fitch jumped $3.38, or 9.4 percent, to $39.39 after posting earnings that exceeded the expectations of Wall Street analysts. Target also rose after reporting its earnings. The company's stock surged $4.30, or 7.6 percent, to $60.81, after saying that sales its sales have been recovering since January.

DON'T LET THE SUN GO DOWN: First Solar slumped Wednesday after reporting earnings that fell short of financial analysts' expectations. The company's stock fell $6.73, or 11.6 percent, to $51.45.

CLOSE, BUT NO RECORD YET: The S&P 500 index has climbed above its record closing high of 1,848.38 during the last two days, only to fall below that level before the market closed. The level is starting to turn into a psychological hurdle for traders and investors. The index needs to close decisively above 1,850 before it can climb further, said JJ Kinahan, a strategist at TD Ameritrade.

"That's the level that everyone is just watching to see if we can stay above it and close above it."

BONDS AND COMMODITIES: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was little changed from Tuesday at 2.70 percent. The price of oil rose 88 cents, or 0.8 percent, to $102.71 a barrel. Gold fell $16.50, or 1.2 percent to $1,326.40 an ounce.

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