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Stocks Holding On To Gains In The Mid-Afternoon - U.S. Commentary

While buying interest has been somewhat subdued, stocks remain mostly higher in mid-afternoon trading on Friday. The major averages are hovering in positive territory after showing a lack of direction earlier in the trading session.

The modest strength on Wall Street reflects a positive reaction to the latest batch of U.S. economic news, including a report from Reuters and the University of Michigan showing an unexpected improvement in consumer sentiment in the month of March.

The markets have also benefited from news that European finance ministers decided to raise the combined size of the region's bailout funds as well as some window dressing by institutional investors.

Health insurance stocks have moved sharply higher on the day, adding to the strong gains posted in the previous session. The Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor Index has surged up by 2.3 percent, reaching a new record intraday high.

Significant strength has also emerged among oil service stocks, as reflected by the 2.1 percent gain being posted by the Philadelphia Oil Service Index. The strength in the sector comes as the price of crude oil has risen by more than $1 a barrel.

Commercial real estate, semiconductor, and natural gas stocks are also posting notable gains, while moderate weakness remains visible among airline and electronic storage stocks.

The major averages have moved roughly sideways in recent trading, holding on to their gains. The Dow is up 65.73 points or 0.5 percent at 13,211.55, the Nasdaq is up 5.69 points or 0.2 percent at 3,101.05 and the S&P 500 is up 6.82 points or 0.5 percent at 1,410.10.

by RTT Staff Writer

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