US equity markets opened sharply higher this morning and have been able to sustain and even add to those gains throughout the day. Business and consumer confidence indexes in Europe were higher, giving an early boost to share prices. Then an unexpectedly large jump in new housing starts, especially multi-family dwellings, put an extra charge into investors. Proposed Federal Reserve rules governing big banks have had little impact on financial stocks, which are up about 4% in the late afternoon. Today’s auction of five-year Treasury went out at 0.880%, a record low yield. Crude oil is also sharply higher today, with WTI trading at $97.22/barrel, up more than 3.5%, and Brent is up 3.34% at $106.98. The US dollar has traded weaker all day today. Gold settled on the Comex up about 1.3%, at $1,616.80.

The unofficial closing bells put the DJIA up nearly 336 points to 12,101.92 (2.85%), the NASDAQ rose more than 80 points (3.19%) to 2,603.73, and the S&P 500 rose 2.98% or nearly 36 points to 1,241.22.

There were several analyst upgrades and downgrades today, including AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) cut to ‘neutral’ at JPMorgan. Other ratings actions today include F5 Networks Inc. (NASDAQ: FFIV) cut from ‘perform’ to ‘underperform’ at Oppenheimer; Urban Outfitters Inc. (NASDAQ: URBN) raised from ‘outperform’ to ‘Top Pick’ at FBR Capital; Amgen Inc. (NASDAQ: AMGN) added to ‘Strong Buy List’ at Zacks; and Baxter International Inc. (NYSE: BAX) lowered from ‘Top Pick List’ to ‘outperform’ and target price lowered from $61 to $58 at RBC Capital Markets.

Here are today’s post-earnings news reactions with prices during the last half-hour of trading: ConAgra Foods Inc. (NYSE: CAG) is up 4% at $26.18; General Mills Inc. is down about -1% at $39.19; Navistar International Corp. (NYSE: NAV) is up nearly 7% at $39.05; Sanderson Farms Inc. (NASDAQ: SAFM) is down -4% at $48.66; and Jefferies Group Inc. (NYSE: JEF) is up more than 22% at $14.46. After markets close today we get earnings from Nike Inc. (NYSE: NKE) and Oracle Corp. (NASDAQ: ORCL). See our 360 coverage on Oracle here and coverage of the ConAgra and General Mills reports here.

Other standouts from today include the following stocks:

Targacept Inc. (NASDAQ: TRGT) is down more than -35% at $5.01, after posting a new 52-week low of $4.92 earlier in the day. The pharmaceutical maker’s anti-depressant drug, developed in conjunction with AstraZeneca plc (NYSE: AZN) has failed a late-stage trial.

Cobalt International Energy Inc. (NYSE: CIE) is up nearly 38% at $13.81. The oil & gas exploration company has signed a production-sharing agreement for a block offshore of Angola. Cobalt owns 40% of the project and is the operator.

Canadian Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: CSIQ) is up nearly 33% at $2.93. The solar panel maker has sold about 86 megawatts of generation to TransCanada Corp. (NYSE: TRP) for approximately $455 million.

Prestige Brand Holdings Inc. (NYSE: PBH) is up nearly 21% at $11.27. The drug and cleaning supplies company paid $660 million for a selection of nonprescription drugs from GlaxoSmithKline PLC (NYSE: GSK).

Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. (NYSE: HOV) is up more than 18% at $1.50. The home builder is riding the wave of good news about new housing starts.

CVS Caremark Corp. (NYSE: CVS) is up about 9% at $39.85, after posting a new 52-week high earlier of $39.86. The healthcare company raised fiscal year guidance and boosted its quarterly dividend by 30%, to $0.1625/share.

Stay tuned for Wednesday. The most widely anticipated report for tomorrow is due at 8:30 a.m. from the National Association of Realtors, which will be revising its new home sales data from 2007 forward. Lower sales of up to -13% are expected. Here are other noteworthy events on the schedule (all times Eastern):

  • 7:00 a.m. – Mortgage Bankers Association purchase applications
  • 10:30 a.m. – EIA weekly petroleum status report
  • 1:00 p.m. – 7-year Treasury note auction

Paul Ausick

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