Stocks Finish Higher

A late burst of buying lifted the major indexes after a choppy trading session

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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