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Stocks Finish Higher

Stocks finished higher after a mixed day of trading Wednesday. Traders weighed a strong report from Intel (INTC) against record trade deficit numbers for November, and also took in higher oil prices.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 61.56 points, or 0.58%, to 10,617.78. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 4.71 points, or 0.40%, to 1,187.70. The Nasdaq composite index gained 12.91 points, or 0.62%, moving to 2,092.53.

Oil futures rose 78 cents to $46.46 a barrel, after crude inventories dropped by 3.0 million barrels, rather than the expected fall of 1.7 million barrels.

In economic news Wednesday, the U.S. trade deficit reached a record $60.3 billion in November, far in excess of median estimates. Exports dropped $2.2 billion, mainly because of a $1.4 billion drop in capital equipment. Imports rose $2.0 billion, entirely because of petroleum price increases. The trade gap is very disappointing, says Standard & Poor's MarketScope, but not a complete surprise.

Up ahead on the economic calendar, Thursday brings December retail sales and weekly jobless claims. Retail sales are seen increasing 0.4% excluding auto sales vs. a 1.6% rise in the previous month. Jobless claims for the week ended Jan. 8 are expected to drop by 29,000 to 335,000.

Topping the week's list, however, is a reading on Friday on wholesale inflation in December. That number is seen increasing only 0.1% for the month vs. a 0.5% increase in the previous month. Excluding volatile food and energy prices, the gauge is seen ticking up 0.2%, the same amount as in November.

After several warnings and lowered guidances in the tech sector Tuesday, chip giant Intel reported its highest-ever quarterly revenue after Tuesday's close. Though the chip-maker reported a slight fall in profits, it beat average analyst estimates. The stock finished up 2.75%.

Package-delivery service UPS (UPS) lowered its guidance for fourth-quarter earnings Wednesday, blaming an unexpected drop in shipping volume between Christmas and New Year's day. Standard & Poor's reiterated its hold rating. Rival shipping company FedEx (FDX) reiterated its fourth-quarter guidance.

Office supplies retailer OfficeMax (OMX) announced that CEO Brian Anderson has resigned and that it will postpone its fourth-quarter earnings announcement until the conclusion of an internal investigation of its accounting.

TiVo (TIVO) CEO Michael Ramsey announced he plans to resign as CEO and has begun the search for a successor. WR Hambrecht downgraded the stock to hold from buy.

Apple Computer (AAPL) posted its highest fourth-quarter earnings to date after the close Wednesday. The computer-maker soared above market estimates, posting 70 cents a share vs. the average Wall Street estimate of 49 cents.

Sun Microsystems (SUNW), the server maker, makes its fourth-quarter announcement on Thursday.

Treasury Market

Treasury prices rose Wednesday as traders position themselves for Thursday's jobless claims report, says Action Economics. The yield on the benchmark 10-year note remained at 4.24%.

In currencies, the dollar went slack after the release of the huge November trade deficit number. The euro traded at $1.326, subsiding slightly from session highs.

World Markets

European stock markets closed lower Wednesday.

In London, the Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index lost 35.10 points, or 0.73%, moving to 4,783.60.

Germany's DAX index fell 49.19 points, or 1.16%, to 4,208.82.

In Paris, the CAC 40 index dropped 32.85 points, or 0.85%, to 3,816.14.

Asian markets finished mixed Wednesday. Tokyo's Nikkei average fell 86.60 points, or 0.75%, to 11,453.39 on profit-taking from yesterday's gains. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index rose 56.06 points, or 0.41%, to close at 13,565.31.

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