US stocks showed some gumption and climbed this morning, following the S&P 500’s best day in two weeks, after housing data shored up market confidence in the economy, inflation numbers gave the markets a nudge, and as Vladimir Putin promised Russia isn’t seeking to split Ukraine.
By Paolo Palazzi-Xirinachs
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
The mixture of a more congenial tone from the Russians and good economic data ahead of tomorrow’s FOMC announcement sent the S&P 500 up 0.6% to 1,869.75 as of 1:00 PM EST in New York, while the Dow added 0.5% climbing to 16,328.87. The S&P 500 rallied 1% yesterday for its biggest increase in almost two weeks as a measure of industrial production grew more than forecast. The gauge dropped 2% last week, the most since January, amid mounting tension in Ukraine and signs of an economic slowdown in China.
The Labor Department said its Consumer Price Index (CPI) nudged up 0.1% for the second month in a row as a drop in gasoline prices offset the largest rise in the cost of food in nearly 2.5 years. In the 12 months through February 14, consumer prices were up only 1.1%, slowing from a 1.6% rise in January. The February increase was the smallest in four months. Stripping out the volatile energy and food components, the so-called core CPI rose 0.1% for a third straight month. The Fed targets 2% inflation and it tracks an index that is running even lower than the CPI. With inflation falling short of their target, Fed officials are likely to bide their time before raising benchmark overnight rates from zero. This is also welcome news for investors.
In a separate report released today, the Commerce Department said housing starts fell 0.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 907K units in February. Groundbreaking declined 11.2% in January. Severe winter weather likely constrained building activity last month, with starts in the Northeast region plunging 37.5%. However, there were huge increases in the Midwest and South. Housing lost momentum after a run-up in mortgage rates last summer. High prices and a lack of properties on the market are also holding back buying activity. Groundbreaking for single-family homes – the largest segment of the market – rose 0.3% last month. Starts for the volatile multi-family homes segment fell 1.2 %.
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