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Stocks Post Solid Gains Amid Relief Buying - U.S. Commentary

Stocks rose by solid margins on Wednesday amid some relief buying following news of continued albeit slower U.S. economic recovery as seen by the Federal Reserve and solid demand for Portugal's bond offerings.

The major averages saw considerable volatility in late-session dealing but still managed to close on the upside. The Dow gained 46.32 points or 0.4 percent to end at 10,387.01, the Nasdaq advanced by 19.98 points or 0.9 percent to 2,228.87 and the S&P 500 rose by 7.03 points or 0.6 percent to 1,098.87.

In the afternoon, stocks saw shaky trading but managed to hold on to the bulk of their gains as the Fed's Beige Book stated that the U.S. economy continued its modest expansion, although it noted that a drop-off in the strength of economic data indicated a slower pace of recovery.

The Fed noted that modest economic growth was the most common characterization of overall conditions in the period from mid-July through the end of August.

Specifically, the report said consumer spending a saw slight increase on balance, although several districts noted an emphasis on necessities and lower-priced goods. While manufacturing activity also continued to expand, several districts reported a slowdown in the pace of growth.

Early buying interest was generated after the Portuguese government successfully auctioned just over 1 billion euros worth of three and ten-year bonds, with the sales attracting solid demand.

The markets also digested comments from President Barack Obama, who spoke in Ohio regarding his plan to extend tax cuts for the middle class, increase business tax write-offs, and spend an additional $50 billion on infrastructure projects.

In corporate news, British telecom giant Vodafone Plc (VOD) confirmed that it has agreed to sell its entire 3.2 percent interest in China Mobile for 4.3 billion pounds, or $6.6 billion. Vodafone will continue its commercial and technology cooperation with China Mobile.

Meanwhile, packaged food company General Mills Inc. (GIS) said it expects its first-quarter results to be in line with its expectations and also reaffirmed its fiscal 2011 adjusted earnings forecast.

Sector News

Electronic storage stocks turned some of the day's strongest performances, boosting the NYSE Arca Disk Drive Index up by 2 percent to a one-month closing high.

Biotechnology, banking, internet and oil stocks were among the other leading gainers on the day, further fueling the day's solid upside for the major averages. Notably, the NYSE Arca Internet Index ended up by 1.4 percent, setting a five-month closing high.

Meanwhile, gold and semiconductor stocks saw moderate weakness on the day, with the NYSE Arca Gold Bugs Index and the Philadelphia Semiconductor Index falling by 0.8 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively, offsetting some recent upside.

The decline among gold stocks came as December gold settled down by $1.80 at $1,257.50 an ounce after trading as high as $1264.70 an ounce.

Dow Components

JP Morgan Chase (JPM) and Alcoa (AA) were two of the leading percentage gainers in the Dow, rising by 2.2 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively. JP Morgan Chase just missed a monthly high, while Alcoa managed to reach its best closing level in a month.

Boeing (BA), General Electric (GE), Caterpillar (CAT) and Pfizer (PFE) also closed markedly higher, gaining more than one percent on the day.

Meanwhile, Hewlett Packard (HPQ) saw a steep loss on the day, falling by 2.8 percent. HP is looking for a successor to Mark Hurd while also attempting to stop Hurd from taking the position of co-President at Oracle (ORCL) by filing a conflict of interest lawsuit.

Intel (INTC) also closed notably lower, falling by 1.2 percent amid the weakness among semiconductor stocks.

Other Markets

Overseas, stock markets in the Asia-Pacific region ended mostly lower on Wednesday. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index sank by 2.2 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index slid by 1.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets saw solid gains. The French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index gained 0.9 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively, while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index rose by 0.4 percent.

In the bond markets, treasuries ended moderately lower. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, closed at 2.654 percent, posting a gain of 4.5 basis points.

Looking Ahead

Thursday, all eyes will be on the weekly jobless claims report, while data on international trade may also attract some attention.

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