The U.S. equity markets marched upwards throughout most of the morning and by midday were solidly in the green, despite a mixed bag of economic reports released earlier. Most notably, after tracing a path for several days that came enticingly close to its record high but never quite took it there, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index broke through its previous record high. The previous closing high of 1,565.15, set on October 9, 2007, was a tantalizing goal, especially as the new high, if it sticks, will completely erase the approximately 57 percent lost during the 2007 to 2009 bear market
At 01:45 p.m.: DJIA: +0.20%, S&P 500: +0.23%, NASDAQ: +0.11%.
Here are three stories helping shape markets on Wednesday afternoon:
1) While Europe finds itself still shrouded in the dark veil of the debt crisis, the U.S. is looking at decidedly brighter skies, as the economy continues its positive trajectory. While growth remained slow in the final months of 2012, stronger business spending helped advance the nation’s gross domestic product at a 0.4 percent annual rate between October and December, the Department of Commerce reported on Thursday.
Though Washington has been locked in a bitter battle over budgetary issues, among other closely watched topics of controversy, companies are still looking to expand, tired of waiting on an indecisive Congress. But like the government, businesses are being cautious — last quarter’s GDP gain is the second-weakest reading since the current recovery began in the second half of 2009. Still, the economy has now grown for 14 consecutive quarters, and GDP advanced 2.2 percent in 2012 alone… (Read more.)
2) Despite recent hiccups in the weekly jobless claims and a slowly improving economy, continued support from the central bank to curb interest rates and strengthen hiring has been paying off, overall. Jobless claims have been trending downward and offer cautious optimism for future hiring patterns. However, this past week’s numbers revealed an increase of 16,000 claims, which points to a slowing of the economic growth that gained steam earlier in the year, even though the numbers are lower than this time last year. For the week which ended on March 23, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 357,000 — an increase of 16,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 341,000… (Read more.)
3) After a two-week long closure — during which time Cypriots faced the possibility that their leaders would impose a deposit tax and force losses on all depositors in exchange for a 10 billion-euro bailout – lines between 15 and 20 people deep formed outside branches in the nation’s capital of Nicosia Thursday. New rules were set in place by the government to limit the amount of cash that could be withdrawn by depositors with the aim of preventing an initial panic when banks opened at midday local time.
“We expected much more people,” said Argyros Eraclides, manager of a Bank of Cyprus branch in Nicosia, told Bloomberg. “Fortunately there are only some people who needed cash for the day, but customers reacted fantastically. We expected some people to be more aggravated.” … (Read more.)