Stocks keep climbing before Bernanke

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Stocks are indicated higher this morning as investors keep putting money to work in equities.

S&P 500 futures are up about one-tenth of a percent after a slight gain yesterday. Most European indexes are modestly lower but have been climbing in the last hour. Asian markets were mixed overnight, with China down slightly but Japan's Nikkei advancing another 1.6 percent.

Equities have been going almost straight up since the S&P 500 bounced at its 50-day moving average last month, but there are potential signs that momentum is slowing. On Tuesday, for instance, transports and small caps were the two weakest indexes, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average was the strongest.

Conservative health-care stocks also led the market higher, while energy finished lower after reversing early gains. Technology lagged as well.

Some recent economic reports, including initial jobless claims last week and regional indexes from the Philadelphia and Chicago Federal Reserve banks, have also missed expectations.

Attention focuses today on Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's testimony in Congress, which begins at 10 a.m. ET. Existing home sales will be reported at the same time and minutes from the last Fed meeting will be released at 2 p.m. Potentially important manufacturing numbers from China and Europe follow in the overnight session.

Trading in foreign-exchange markets is mixed but modestly bullish, with continued weakness in the Japanese yen. The euro is modestly higher against the United States dollar. But other currencies associated with risk, namely the Australian and Canadian dollars, are lower.

Commodities are mixed as well: Oil is down by half a percent but copper is up almost 2 percent after a mine accident in Indonesia continued to hurt supplies. Precious metals are up about 1 percent as well, and agricultural products are mostly positive.

In company-specific news, cloud-computing stock NetApp is indicated higher by more than 6 percent after increasing its share buyback and introducing a dividend. The news offset so-so quarterly results and a weak outlook. (NTAP had bullish call buying earlier this week.)

Saks is rallying 19 percent after the New York Post reported that the luxury retailer had hired Goldman Sachs to explore possible strategic alternatives, including a possible sale of the company. Home-improvement chain Lowe's fell 3 percent after sales and profit missed expectations.


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