Stocks Finish with Gains

Wednesday brings earnings updates from retailers -- including Best Buy -- and economic reports on manufacturing

Stocks staged a decent comeback in late trading Tuesday to end higher in an up-and-down session. Investors brushed aside news of a modest fall in a key consumer confidence gauge as the major indexes built on Monday's rally.

The Dow Jones industrial average added 52.07 points, or 0.50%, to 10,381.70. The broader Standard & Poor's 500-stock index inched up 4.53 points, or 0.40%, to 1,127.00. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index added 8.06 points, or 0.40%, to 2,000.63.

The major indexes have been moving in a trading range. As chief investment strategist of PNC Advisors Jeffery Kleintop explains, investors are facing a turbulent time. "A more active process [trading stocks] may offer superior returns over the long-term buy-and-hold philosophy that worked so well in the 1990s." He expects total stock market returns of 7% to 9% in 2004, below the average of the past few decades.

On Tuesday, chip giant Intel (INTC ) weighed on the Nasdaq after it said it will pay $225 million to Intergraph Corp. (INGR ) to settle a patent infringement suit.

In other tech news, Accenture (ACN ), a technology consulting giant, beat analysts' average estimates for fiscal second quarter results, with help from a 17% rise in revenues.

Software company Autodesk (ADSK ) raised its first-quarter and fiscal-year revenue and earnings outlook, citing increased demand.

An Alabama circuit court judge reduced punitive damages awarded against Dow member Exxon Mobil (XOM ) to $3.5 billion, down from $11.8 billion.

Another Dow component, financial services giant American Express (AXP ) announced a deal with China's top commercial bank to issue credit cards in the country. Oil prices rose Tuesday after Saudi Arabia, a key OPEC member, said it would support supply cuts. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates continue to oppose supply decreases in favor of calming prices.

In economic news Tuesday, the Conference Board's update on consumer confidence for March showed a slight decline with consumers expressing concerns about paltry job growth. The index slipped to 88.3 in March from an upwardly revised 88.5 in February.

That the measure did not increase worried some, but by and large, the consumer has yet to fall apart. "Consumer spending has yet to betray any pronounce shift in consumer sentiment," say economists at Moody's Investors Service.

More influential economic data come later in the week, with the latest on Chicgao PMI and factory orders scheduled for release Wednesday. Updates on construction spending, auto sales and weekly jobless claims are due Thursday. On Friday, the producer price index and non-farm payrolls for March -- the week's big data report -- are set for release.

Despite downward revisions by economists on job growth, many are still optimistic that "the March employment report should, finally, show the long-awaited jobs pop," says Russell Sheldon, senior economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns. He points to improving trends in small business hiring practices and temporary employment increases.

In earnings news Wednesday, retailers Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY ), Best Buy (BBY ) and Circuit City (CC ) are reporting. Others on the docket include: Monsanto (MON ), Internatinal Multifoods (IMC ), and Manugistics (MANU ).

Treasury Market

Treasuries pulled back from earlier gains, but finished higher, as the latest consumer confidence report showed little change from the previous month. Economists had expected a dip in the reading, but investors have been more focused on whether the read suggests that consumers are losing their nerve.

In other data, chain store sales rose 0.2% in the week ended Mar. 20, compared with a 0.5% rise in the previous week. The reading was positive, considering rising fears that rising fuel prices and weaker confidence in general are hurting consumers.

World Markets

European stock markets finished mostly lower after Monday's gains and ahead of the European Central Bank's monetary policy meeting Thursday. Many are expecting the bank will cut interest rates in the eurozone to help the struggling economic recovery.

London's Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index added 6.10 points, or 0.14%, to 4,412.80, amid news that anti-terror police in England arrested several individuals.

Germany's DAX index shed 7.21 points, or 0.19%, to 3,874.04. In Paris, the CAC 40 dipped 14.08 points, or 0.39%, to 3,620.10.

In Asia, markets finished mixed. The Nikkei 225 index lost 24.56 points, or 0.21%, to 11,693.68. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index added 214.05, or 1.72%, to 12,641.39.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.