Mid-Day Update: Stocks Drifting Higher; Financial, Materials Pacing Gains

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Stocks are edging just higher to maintain their perch near multi-year highs, but the market lacks conviction.

Apple Inc. ( AAPL ) shares are up slightly more than 1% after the tech heavyweight said it will pay a $2.65 a share dividend to shareholders beginning during its fiscal Q4 starting in July. It also plans to buy back up to $10 billion in stock.

On a conference call Monday, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook reportedly said that "these decisions will not close any doors for us," and that product innovation remained the company's priority.

In a light day for economic reports, a measure of homebuilder confidence this month was unchanged from a revised 28 reading in February, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index. The reading had risen five consecutative months, reaching its best level since June 2007, although February's advance was pared slightly from the 4-point advance originally reported to a 3-point gain.

Experts polled by Marketwatch were expecting the index to remain unchanged at 29. Readings over 50 indicate more builders view conditions as good rather than poor. Later this week, new data on housing starts during February will be released tomorrow, followed by existing home sales on Wednesday. New-home sales figures are due out on Friday.

In other company news, United Parcel Service ( UPS ) is paying $6.85 billion to acquire TNT Express in a deal that will establish it as the market leader in Europe and gain access to TNT's networks in the fast-growing Asian and Latin American markets. Overall, global sales should top $60 billion. At last look, UPS shares were up 3.3%.

Supermarket operator Safeway Inc ( SWY ) is now trading lower, giving back its earlier gains after expanding its stock repurchase program by $1 billion and declaring a regular quarterly dividend of $0.145 a share. It had about $400 million remaining under an existing buyback program. The cash dividend is payable April 12 to stockholders of record on March 22.

Most industry sectors in the S&P 500 are edging higher, led again by financial stocks, up more than 1%. Material stocks also are rising, along with tech stocks, which are getting a big boost from AAPL.

Commodities are mixed with gold for March delivery down 50 cents at $1,655 an ounce while March silver is ahead 4.7 cents at $32.62 an ounce. Copper is easing from a 2.5% advance earlier today to now trade around $3.91 an ounce, up 3.25 cents. April crude oil is up 69 cents at $107.73 a barrel.

Among energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund is up 0.34% to $41.17 while the United States Natural Gas Fund is up 1.36% at $18.65. Among precious-metal funds, the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF is up 0.40% to $50.13 with the SPDR Gold Trust gaining 0.20% to $161.625. The iShares Silver Trust is up 1.17% to $31.96.

Here's where the markets stand at mid-day:

NYSE Composite Index up 33.37 (+0.40%) to 8,303.77.

Dow Jones Industrial Average up 19.91 (+0.15%) to 13,252.53.

S&P 500 up 6.16 (+0.44%) to 1,410.33.

NASDAQ Composite up 21.56 (+0.71%) to 3,076.82.

GLOBAL SENTIMENT

Nikkei 225 up 0.12%.

Hang Seng Index down 0.95%.

China Shanghai Composite Index up 0.23%.

FTSE 100 down 0.05%.

NYSE SECTOR INDICES

NYSE Energy Sector Index up 0.33% to 13,437.14.

NYSE Financial Sector Index up 0.85% to 4,885.63.

NYSE Healthcare Sector Index up 0.30% to 7,371.79.

UPSIDE MOVERS

(+) ABVT, (+13.1%) Agrees to $2.2 billion buyout by Zayo Group LCC.

(+) HPOL, (+3.3%) Begins $3 million stock buyback program; sets new 52-week high.

DOWNSIDE MOVERS

(-) SGRP, (-10.0%) Q4 profit unchanged from year ago despite 26% jump in revenues.

(-) EBAY, (-0.9%) Citigroup downgrade to Neutral from Buy, citing valuation.



The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.

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This article appears in: Investing , Commodities

Referenced Stocks: AAPL , SWY , UPS

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