Data helped dissolve a negative tone in early trade, but financials provided the leadership necessary to take the stock market to a fractionally improved two-year high.
Losses among overseas markets weighed on stock futures this morning, but the tone improved with news that the ADP Employment Change reading showed that 300,000 private payrolls were added during December. Many were quick to speculate that since the ADP tally is triple what had been expected, a strong non-farm payrolls report will likely be released this Friday.
Participants didn't respond to the December ISM Services Index, which hit a four-year high of 57.1 to best the Briefing.com consensus call for a reading of 55.7.
Stocks were a bit sluggish in the early going as financials were the only sector to sport a gain in the early going. Financials gradually garnered additional buying and pushed to a 1.2% gain. AIG (AIG 60.95, +4.17) was one of the sector's top performers following news that a $3 billion bid was made for the firm's Taiwan unit.
Strength among financials inspired broader buying, such that utilities (-0.6%) made up the only sector to log a loss. That helped both the S&P 500 and Dow inch past the heights reached earlier this week for fresh two-year highs.
The Nasdaq couldn't quite eclipse the high that it set earlier this week, but it still scored a better gain than either of its counterparts. The Nasdaq was led by a handful of tech plays, namely Apple (AAPL 334.00, +2.71). Qualcomm (QCOM 52.03, +1.06) was also strong after it confirmed plans to acquire Atheros (ATHR 44.64, +0.64) for $45 per share.
Outside of the major averages, the Amex Airline Index ascended to a 1.6% gain following a flurry of monthly traffic reports. The Airline Index is already up 4.0% this year. That only adds to a near 40% annual gain in 2010.
Commodities had a weak start, but were able to rebound. More specifically, the CRB Commodity Index ended the day with a 0.5% gain after it was down 1.0% this morning. Oil was key driver in that bounce; it settled at $90.30 per barrel for a 1.0% gain after it had been down more than 1% even after a larger-than-expected draw from weekly inventories was reported.
Treasuries were trounced today. That left the yield on the benchmark 10-year Note to rise above 3.45% to its highest level this week.
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