Buoyed by gains in energy shares and interest rate-sensitive sectors, the major averages were cautiously higher as Wall Street waits for the outcome to the Federal Open Market Committee meeting this afternoon. The strength of the economy coupled with the anticipation of fiscal stimulus policies this year will likely encourage the Fed to raise the Fed funds target rate another 25 basis points.
Oil futures were on the plus side for the first time in eight days after government data indicated an unexpected decline in domestic crude stockpiles. According to the American Petroleum Institute, crude oil inventory fell by 531,000 barrels versus expectations for a 3 million barrel increase.
Data released this morning showed price pressures and retail sales slowing, but the housing market still experiencing impressive growth as homebuyers capitalize on low interest rates.
The consumer price index was up 0.1% in February and 0.2% higher excluding the food and fuel segment, both of which were in line with expectations.
Retail sales increased by just 0.1% last month, slowing down from a robust 0.6% pace the month prior. Retail sales ex-autos and ex-autos and gas were up 0.2%, near Wall Street estimates, but significantly lower than sales of +1.2% and +1.1%, respectively in January.
The Empire State manufacturing index fell back to 16.4 in March from 18.7 in February, beating expectations of 15.4, while business inventories were up 0.3% in January.
Finally, the National Association of Homebuilders' housing market index jumped to 71 in March, its highest level since June 2005, topping estimates for a slight gain to 66.
European bourses traded higher Wednesday with firmer oil prices giving a lift to the energy complex, and overseas banking stocks underpinned by expectations that higher U.S. rates will boost profits at European banks. Gains were blunted, however, as Dutch voters go to the polls today. The outcome of today's selection of a new prime minister will be an important barometer of elections in France and Germany where populist and anti-EU candidates are gaining momentum.
Crude oil was up $0.78 to $48.50 per barrel. Natural gas was up $0.04 to $3.03 per 1 million BTU. Gold was down $3.30 to $1,199.30 an ounce, while silver was down $0.05 to $16.87 an ounce. Copper was up $0.02 to $2.66 per pound.
Among energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund was up 1.38% to $10.33 with the United States Natural Gas Fund was up 1.19% to $7.21. Amongst precious-metal funds, the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF was up 1.69% to 21.70 while SPDR Gold Shares were up 0.10% to $114.23. The iShares Silver Trust was down 0.13% to $15.97.
Here's where the markets stand at mid-day:
NYSE Composite Index was up 55.91 points (+0.49%) to 11,515.91
Dow Jones Industrial Index was up 52.73 points (+0.26%) to 20,890.12
S&P 500 was up 8.95 points (+0.38%) to 2,374.40
Nasdaq Composite Index was up 14.11 points (+0.24%) to 5,870.88
FTSE 100 was up 15.65 points (+0.21%) to 7,373.50
DAX was up 23.62 points (+0.20%) to 12,013.09
CAC 40 was up 6.00 points (+0.12%) to 4,980.26
Nikkei 225 was down 32.12 points (-0.16%) to 19,577.38
Hang Seng Index was down 35.10 points (-0.15%) to 23,792.85
Shanghai China Composite Index was up 2.43 points (+0.08%) to 3,241.76
NYSE SECTOR INDICES
NYSE Energy Sector Index was up 116.14 points (+1.10%) to 10,658.39
NYSE Financial Sector Index was up 29.17 points (+0.40%) to 7.343.19
NYSE Healthcare Sector Index was up 59.15 points (+0.46%) to 12,874.00
(+) CPRX (+39.32%) Reported positive trial results from Myathenia Gravis drug study
(+) PIP (+12.16%) FY 16 sales down from year ago, but swings to a profit
(+) ARNA (+11.97%) Reported surprise Q4 profit, sales top estimates
(+) KOOL (+9.76%) Positive data from autologous platelet rich plasma study published in Journal of Biomedical Science
(-) RUBI (-27.29%) Guides for disappointing results for current quarter, appoints new CEO
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(-) CXRX (-11.87%) Missed Q4 EPS and sales expectations
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