U.S. Stocks Advance as Home Data Tempers Economic Concern

U.S. Stocks Fluctuate as Investors Watch Data Amid Europe Woes
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

U.S. stocks advanced, rebounding from yesterday’s selloff, as optimism about the housing market tempered concern about a worsening of Europe’s debt crisis.

News Corp. rose 8.3 percent as Rupert Murdoch’s company said it’s considering splitting into two publicly held corporations. Apollo Group Inc., the largest U.S. for-profit college chain, surged 10 percent after beating earnings and revenue estimates and raising its forecast. A measure of homebuilders in Standard & Poor’s indexes jumped 3.8 percent as housing prices dropped at the slowest pace in more than a year.

The S&P 500 rose 0.5 percent to 1,319.99 at 4 p.m. New York time. It tumbled 1.6 percent yesterday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average increased 32.01 points, or 0.3 percent, to 12,534.67. Volume for exchange-listed stocks in the U.S. was about 6 billion shares, or 12 percent below the three-month average.

“There are lots of variables at play,” said Keith Wirtz, who oversees $15 billion as chief investment officer for Fifth Third Asset Management in Cincinnati. He spoke in a phone interview. “People are looking at signs of stabilization in the housing market, there’s the European summit this week, it’s almost quarter end. It’s going to be a volatile week.”

Today’s rally trimmed this quarter’s decline in the S&P 500 to 6.3 percent. The benchmark measure is on pace for the first quarterly slump since September amid concern about a global economic slowdown. Energy, financial and technology shares have had the biggest losses so far in the second quarter, tumbling at least 9.5 percent.

Yields Surge

Equities rose today as the S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values in 20 cities dropped 1.9 percent in April from the same month in 2011, the smallest decline since November 2010, after decreasing 2.6 percent in the year ended March. The data overshadowed a surge in yields at auctions in Italy and Spain ahead of a European Union summit on June 28.

“We’re caught in this limbo,” said Brian Jacobsen, who helps oversee $204 billion as chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Advantage Funds in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. “People are waiting to see what comes out of the European Union summit this week.”

Consumer discretionary, energy and financial shares had the biggest gains among the 10 main S&P 500 industries. Homebuilders in S&P indexes advanced with PulteGroup Inc. and Lennar Corp. adding more than 3 percent.

News Corp. rallied 8.3 percent to $21.76, the highest level since 2007. Murdoch, the chairman and CEO, is overseeing internal discussions on whether to separate the company’s publishing business from its entertainment holdings, said two people with knowledge of the matter. In a statement today, News Corp. didn’t say how the company would be divided.

Apollo Gains

Apollo advanced 10 percent to $35.81 for the largest gain in the Bloomberg U.S. For-Profit Education Index. The company, confronting student reluctance to take on debt amid high unemployment and government investigations of for-profit colleges’ marketing practices, reined in costs during the quarter, said Peter Appert, an analyst at Piper Jaffray & Co.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. had its recommendation raised and Morgan Stanley was lowered by analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., who said they have a better view of the near-term earnings outlook for JPMorgan. Shares of JPMorgan increased 1.1 percent to $35.71, while Morgan Stanley added 0.2 percent to $13.51.

Goldman Sachs upgraded JPMorgan to a buy on its “Americas conviction list” of highly recommended stocks, while Morgan Stanley was removed from that list and lowered to neutral, the analysts wrote in a research note today.

Return Visibility

“Both JPM and MS shares have underperformed the broader banking group this year, driven by real but different idiosyncratic concerns,” Goldman Sachs analysts led by Richard Ramsden wrote, referring to the two company’s stock symbols. The balance of risk and potential return is better for JPMorgan shareholders, according to the note, because of “more near-term earnings and return visibility for JPM.”

Facebook Inc., facing criticism for a lack of diversity on its board, appointed Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg as its first female director. The world’s largest social-networking service, a majority of whose users are women, will benefit from the addition of a female voice to its board, said Laura Martin, an analyst at Needham & Co.

“This is a great move,” said Martin, who doesn’t own shares and rates the stock a buy. “Academic research shows that the greater the diversity on a board, the higher the returns to shareholders are.”

The shares rose 3.2 percent to $33.10.

Dow Chemical

Dow Chemical Co. slid 2.9 percent to $31.32. The largest U.S. chemical company by revenue was downgraded to neutral from overweight at JPMorgan by equity analyst Jeffrey Zekauskas. The 18-month share-price estimate is $36.

The S&P 500, down 7.4 percent through yesterday since reaching a four-year high in April on weakening economic data, is about to lose another pillar of support: the election year calendar.

The gauge has climbed an average of 0.1 percent in third quarters before a presidential vote in election cycles since 1945, the worst return of the year and down from an average increase of 2.2 percent between April and June, according to S&P. U.S. shares have returned 5.7 percent in election years since World War II, the second-worst performance during four-year executive branch terms.

Stocks have retreated following a rally in the first quarter, dragged down after reports on U.S. manufacturing and employment trailed economist forecasts and concern grew that Europe’s debt crisis will spur a global recession.

Financial Crisis

The S&P 500 dropped 8.9 percent in the July-September quarter of 2008 as the financial crisis intensified. It has rebounded 1.9 percent on average in quarters after elections, S&P’s data show.

“This lack of direction is understandable, in our opinion, as investors are bombarded by the hype from the conventions, speeches and political advertisements, as they await the outcome of the upcoming election,” Sam Stovall, S&P’s chief equity strategist, wrote in a note yesterday.

While the index posts an average gain during the third quarter of election years, it’s just as likely to rise as fall, according to S&P. Its lowest point during years of presidential votes have come in the first half 71 percent of the time, the data shows. The most consistent gains come in the final quarter, when the gauge has climbed 81 percent of the time.

Only twice out of the 17 election years since 1944 did the index bottom in the fourth quarter, in 2000 and 2008, when the market suffered the bursting of Internet and housing bubbles, respectively. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, is seeking a second term against Republican candidate Mitt Romney on Nov. 6.

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