NEW YORK A jump in home sales and strong earnings from Home Depot (HD) helped the Dow claw back more than half of its losses from Monday. Improving consumer confidence also brought back buyers to the market.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 115.96 points, or 0.8 percent, to 13,900.13. The Dow fell 216 points the day before, its biggest drop in three months, on concern that the European debt crisis may flare up again. The index has moved 100 points or more on four out of the past five trading days.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 9.09 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,496.94. The Nasdaq composite was up 13.40 points, or 0.4 percent, at 3,129.65.
Home Depot, the biggest home improvement store chain in the country, jumped $3.64, or 5.7 percent, to $67.56 after reporting that its income rose 32 percent in the latest quarter thanks to strong U.S. sales and the cleanup that followed Superstorm Sandy. That made it the biggest gainer in the Dow, accounting for about 28 points, or about a quarter, of its advance.
"Companies on the whole, particularly U.S. companies, are doing well," Michael Mussio, a portfolio manager at FBB Capital, said.
Strong earnings from home improvement companies, such as Home Depot and Lowe's (LOW), which reported earnings Monday that beat Wall Street forecasts, compounded evidence that the U.S. housing market is maintaining its recovery, Mussio said. Also Tuesday, the government reported that sales of new homes jumped 16 percent last month to the highest level since July 2008.
The report boosted housing companies, which led the S&P 500 higher. PulteGroup (PHM) rose $1.03, or 5.7 percent, to $19.05, edging out Home Depot as the biggest gainer in the index. D.R. Horton (DHI) advanced 88 cents, or 4.12 percent, to $22.25 and Lennar (LEN) rose $1.35, or 3.7 percent, to $38.01.
The rebounding housing sector has been an important factor behind a rally that pushed the Dow above 14,000 last week, close to its record high close of 14,164 reached in October 2007. The Dow is still up 6 percent this year, even after Monday's sell-off. The S&P 500 is up 5 percent.
Also Tuesday, a measure of consumer confidence rose sharply, reversing three months of declines, as shoppers began adjusting to a payroll tax hike last month.
Investors closely watched testimony by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. The Fed chairman said that the automatic government spending cuts due to take effect Friday would put a drag on the economy. He urged lawmakers and the White House to replace the cuts with longer-term policies to reduce the budget deficit.
Investors shouldn't be dissuaded from buying stocks by any flare-up in Europe's economic troubles, says Hans Olsen, a strategist at Barclays (BARC). The strategist says stocks should have a good year thanks to earnings growth and a pickup in corporate dealmaking.
Deals have accelerated sharply in the last three months and have involved household names including Heinz (HNZ), Dell (DELL) and American Airlines. Some of the acquired companies soared 20 percent or more when the deals are announced.
It's not yet clear how the recent see-saw in the market will affect investors. Individual investors have been creeping back into stocks since the start of this year, but the swings might yet unnerve them.
"The gyrations worry them, it scares them, even though the market is up," says Gabriel Fancher, an adviser at the Financial Group, a financial planner. "The market seems out of people's hands these days."
Tuesday's good news about the economy in the U.S. helped investors turn their focus away from Europe.
While U.S. market rose, European markets fell again as investors worried about Italy's political situation. The country is facing political gridlock after elections left Parliament with no clear-cut winner.
U.S. stocks slumped Monday after election results in Italy showed a race too close to call. That left investors fearful that the country, the euro region's third-largest, will struggle to form a government that can move forward with reforms to revive the economy, rekindling the region's debt crisis and worries over the viability of its shared currency, the euro.
Italy's main stock index dropped 4.9 percent Tuesday. The yield on Italy's benchmark government bond rose sharply, to 4.83 percent from 4.43 percent the day before, as investors sold them. That's still far below the 7 percent the yield traded at in January 2012, when confidence in Italy's finances was far lower. The euro was little changed against the dollar.
Other European indexes also fell, but not as much. Stocks fell 2.3 percent in Germany, 2.7 percent in France, and 1.3 percent in Britain.
In U.S. government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to prices, rose two basis points to 1.88 percent.
Among other companies making big moves Tuesday—
- Tyson Foods fell 86 cents, or 3.7 percent, to $22.40 after it said that its fiscal second quarter has been tougher than expected because of lower margins in its beef and pork divisions. The nation's biggest meat company said it's still optimistic about its full-year results.
- Oneok fell $1.86, or 4 percent, to $44.34 after the natural gas company cut its distribution growth forecast for the next three years, citing expectations of lower sales volumes and prices of natural gas liquids.
- Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia fell 16 cents, or 5.3 percent, to $2.85 after the company said its fourth-quarter net income slid 74 percent as it continues to struggle with weak results at its publishing and broadcasting divisions.
- Macy's rose $1.33, or 3.5 percent, to $39.85 after its results beat analysts' forecasts.