Stocks Tick Higher at Open Despite Mixed Data; S&P 500 Closing High in Sight

Stocks ticked higher at the open on the final trading day of the first quarter, with the S&P 500 taking another swing at its closing high level, as investors digested a mixed bag of economic reports against the calm surrounding the opening of Cyprus banks.

The Dow has soared nearly 11 percent this year, on pace to logging its best first-quarter in 15 years. The S&P 500 has jumped almost 10 percent. The index closed about 2 points below its all-time closing high of 1,565.15 on Tuesday.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

  Name Price   Change %Change
DJIA Dow Jones Industrial Average 14557.35   31.19 0.21%
S&P 500 S&P 500 Index 1564.78   1.93 0.12%
NASDAQ Nasdaq Composite Index 3258.85   2.32 0.07%

The Dow Jones Industrial Average ticked higher at the open, led by United Technologies and Caterpillar.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also edged higher. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded below 13.

Most key S&P sectors opened higher, led by industrials and materials.

 “From a technical perspective, everyone wants to know the implications of the S&P 500 finally setting a new closing high—hat day will mean little to us,” wrote Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ. “It’s the action in the period that follows that we think matters the most. A meaningful move to us would be a strong break above the old high, perhaps by 2 percent, followed by a test of the old high, and then a resumption of the uptrend.”

On the economic front, the U.S. economy grew at a 0.4 percent annual rate, according to the Commerce Department, just a touch below the 0.5 percent gain expected by economists in a Reuters survey. However, the reading was higher than the government’s previous estimate of a tepid 0.1 percent expansion rate.

Weekly jobless claims jumped 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 357,000, according to the Labor Department, but the gain was still in the middle of their range for the year. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a reading of 340,000.

In Europe, Cypriot banks re-opened after an almost two-week closure to relative calm. Strict capital control measures were imposed and could remain in place for weeks. Cypriots will not be allowed to withdraw more than 300 euros a day, cash checks, or take more than 3,000 euros when traveling abroad.

 In company news, Blackberry reported quarterly earnings that outpaced market expectations, boosted in part by the launch of its new BlackBerry 10 smartphone. Still, the company lost subscribers at a rapid pace, with the base of users contracting to 76 million from 79 million. (Read More: Is BlackBerry’s Turnaround on Track?)

Goldman Sachs edged higher after Guggenheim started coverage of the banking giant with a “buy” rating and price target of $175. Meanwhile, the brokerage initiated coverage of Morgan Stanley with a “neutral” rating and a price target of $25.

United Technologies rose after Morgan Stanley initiated coverage of the Dow component with an “overweight” rating, saying the company has “significant, broad-based” tailwinds.

Volume is expected to remain relatively low ahead of Good Friday. Markets will be closed in the United States and most of Europe, but banks will be open. Economic data including personal income and consumer sentiment are expected to be reported Friday.


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