U.S. stocks climb as economic data offset federal spending cuts

Posted March 01, 2013, at 6 p.m.

NEW YORK — U.S. stocks rose Friday, erasing earlier losses in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, as better-than-estimated data on consumer confidence and manufacturing offset concerns about federal spending cuts.

Groupon rallied 13 percent after firing its chief executive officer. Salesforce.com jumped 7.6 percent after posting better-than-estimated results for the fourth quarter. Apple fell 2.5 percent to its lowest level in more than a year. Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold lost 1.4 percent as metals tumbled on a report showing China’s manufacturing slowed.

The S&P 500 gained 0.2 percent to 1,518.20, after dropping as much as 0.9 percent earlier. The benchmark index climbed 0.2 percent this week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 35.17 points, or 0.3 percent, to 14,089.66. U.S. exchanges on Friday saw about 6.8 billion shares traded, 7.4 percent above the three-month average.

Democrats and Republicans are in a standoff over how to replace federal cuts, known as sequestration, totaling $1.2 trillion over nine years. Of that total, $85 billion would occur in the remaining seven months of this fiscal year. President Barack Obama said the automatic spending cuts set to kick in Friday will be a “slow grind” on the economy and that it may take weeks to win over enough lawmakers from both parties to reach a deal on a replacement deficit-cutting plan.

“There seems to be some belief that some sort of deal will come up that would postpone the sequestration,” Jordan Irving, who helps oversee $175 million at Irving Magee Investment Management in Philadelphia, said in a phone interview. “We didn’t think the deal would get done, so it’s just another headwind to the overall economy. I think people are going to take the weekend to really look at this.”

U.S. stocks rose as American factories expanded in February at the fastest pace in almost two years. The Institute for Supply Management’s factory index climbed to 54.2, the highest reading since June 2011, the Tempe, Ariz.-based group said Friday.

Consumer spending in the United States rose in January even as incomes dropped by the most in 20 years, showing households were weathering the payroll-tax increase by socking away less money in the bank. Outside the United States, data showed China’s manufacturing slowed for a second month while factory output in the euro area contracted for the 19th straight month.

Eight of 10 groups in the S&P 500 advanced Friday as health-care and consumer-discretionary companies rose the most, climbing at least 0.5 percent. A Bloomberg gauge of U.S. airlines rallied 2.4 percent to $43.16, its highest level since December 2010. All 10 members advanced, as Delta Air Line jumped 3.9 percent to $14.82 and United Continental Holdings gained 2.5 percent to $27.38, a two-year record high.

Groupon advanced 13 percent to $5.10. The daily-deals company ousted Andrew Mason as CEO a day after reporting results that disappointed investors. Executive Chairman Eric Lefkofsky and Vice Chairman Ted Leonsis will oversee the company as it seeks a successor.

Salesforce.com increased 7.6 percent to $182. The largest maker of online customer-management software rose to a record high after reporting sales and profit that topped estimates as it expanded in marketing and customer-service tools.

Intuitive Surgical jumped 8.5 percent to $553.40 for the largest advance in the S&P 500. The manufacturer of surgical systems rebounded following yesterday’s 11 percent loss amid a safety probe by U.S. regulators of the company’s robots.

Deckers Outdoor advanced 15 percent to $46.62 after the owner of the Ugg brand forecast a gain of about 7 percent in 2013 revenue that exceeded analysts estimates.

Gap rose 2.9 percent to $33.87. The biggest U.S. specialty-apparel retailer posted fourth-quarter profit that topped analysts’ estimates, fueled by its best holiday shopping season in six years.

Best Buy rose 4.6 percent to $17.16. The company posted adjusted profit that topped analysts’ estimates and said the retailer will focus on continuing its turnaround after failing to receive a takeover offer from its founder.

CEO Hubert Joly, who took over in September, has closed stores and matched rivals’ prices to reverse the retailer’s slide, all while founder Richard Schulze was analyzing the company’s financial data in preparation for a potential takeover offer. Best Buy said Friday that it didn’t receive an offer from Schulze by its deadline Thursday.

Apple dropped 2.5 percent to $430.47, its lowest level since January 2012. David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital will drop its lawsuit against Apple over a preferred share measure after the iPad maker agreed to withdraw the disputed proposal. Greenlight won an injunction Feb. 22 barring Apple from moving forward with a shareholder vote on the measure that could have curtailed the company’s ability to issue preferred shares.

Freeport-McMoRan, the biggest industrial metals user, fell 1.4 percent to $31.49 as copper and aluminum fell to three-month lows.

Coal producers slumped, as Consol Energy dropped 4.7 percent to $30.64 and Peabody Energy tumbled 4.6 percent to $20.56. European coal for 2014 fell as much as 0.7 percent to a record $97.50 a ton as Deutsche Bank said China’s anti-pollution efforts may turn the country into a net exporter of the fuel in 2015.

Halliburton erased 2.1 percent to $40.63, while Chesapeake Energy slide 2.4 percent to $19.67. Caterpillar slumped 1.1 percent to $91.36 and Alcoa lost 0.9 percent to $8.44 for the biggest declines in the Dow.

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