U.S. Stocks Rise; Markets Await New-homes Data

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks rose on Friday, as shares of blue chip Citigroup and other banks were in focus amid a report of possible asset sales and as traders awaited data on U.S. new-home sales.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 67 points, 0.5%, to 13,429. Of the Dow's 30 components, only one was in negative territory.

The S&P 500 Index gained 10 points, or 0.7%, to 1,486 and the technology-laden Nasdaq Composite rose 15 points, or 0.6%, to 2,692.

"It's a technical bounce and we're waiting for the economic numbers to come out," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Avalon Partners.

"Yesterday's decline might have been somewhat exaggerated," Cardillo said.

On Thursday, U.S. stocks fell sharply after the assassination of Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and a weaker-than-forecast rise in durable-goods orders, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average ending the session down nearly 200 points.

The highlight of Friday's calendar will be new-home sales for November, due out at 10 a.m. Eastern. Also due out will be releases on Chicago-area manufacturing sentiment for December and weekly natural-gas inventory figures.

On the New York Stock Exchange, 60 million shares were traded, with advancers outpacing decliners 10 to 3.

On the Nasdaq, 82 million shares exchanged hands, with advancers outpacing decliners 8 to 3.

Stocks in focus

Shares of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway
gained 1.3% after the Wall Street Journal reported that it is going to buy a reinsurance unit for $433 million from Holland's ING and is starting a bond insurer for municipal issuers.

The Journal also reported that banks including Citigroup and HSBC Holdings are considering selling off a range of various assets.

Citigroup could sell 80%-held Student Loan Corp. , its North American auto-lending unit, its 24% stake in Brazil credit card operation Redecard and the bank's Japanese consumer finance business, the newspaper reported.

HSBC may sell its auto-finance business, the report said. Separately, Swiss bank UBS said it will not proceed with the acquisition of Standard Chartered Bank's mutual-funds management business in India.

Meanwhile, Dubai World increased its stake in MGM Mirage to 6.5%, buying 5 million shares of the casino operator from billionaire Kirk Kerkorian at $84.25.

Shares of MSC Industrial dropped 5% after Bear Stearns downgraded the company to peer perform from outperform, citing concerns that the U.S. maintenance, repair and overhaul market will modestly slow in the next couple of months.

Other markets

"The market is going to keep a very close eye on what's happening in Pakistan," Cardillo said. "The key will be what happens with the price of gold and oil if there is any escalation of violence."

Gold futures for February delivery rose $4.70 to stand lately at $836.50 an ounce, continuing to gain from safe-haven demand and dollar weakness.

Crude-oil futures also gained, with the February contract rising 45 cents at $97.07 a barrel.

The dollar lost ground against the euro and the Japanese yen. The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of other major currencies, fell 0.3% to 76.365.

Prices of Treasurys extended their gains, with the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rising 15/32 to 100 28/32 while its yield contracted to 4.143%.

By Polya Lesova