Stock Market Today: Apple, Bernanke, Durable Goods in Focus

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The stock market today (Wednesday) opened modestly higher before staging a strong rally by mid-day.

Shortly after noon, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had jumped 133 points, or .96%, to 14,033, putting it within reach of its all-time high of 14,164, set in 2007. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index added 15.71, or 1.05%, to 1,512; and the tech-heavy Nasdaq climbed 35.18, or 1.09%, to 3,163.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke remains in the spotlight today. The Fed chief continues to defend the central bank's easy-money policies in his second day of testimony before Congress.

Also garnering attention was the Commerce Department's report that showed a 5.2% drop in orders for durable goods – products designed to last at least three years. The decline, steeper than the 3.5% decline economists had expected, came after strong gains in the previous month.

The slump shows the impact from reduced spending, ahead of sequestration, that has already taken hold.

With defense contractors feeling the effects of impending automatic spending cuts, defense capital goods orders plunged 69.5% in January, marking the steepest drop in more than a decade.

Also falling was demand for civilian aircraft, which plummeted 34%. The steep drop in this volatile category was attributed to a decline in orders at The Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) due to battery problems in its Dreamliner 787.

The stock market today got a boost from the National Association of Realtors monthly index report of pending sales of existing U.S. homes – up 4.5% in January from the previous month, handily beating the 1.5% analysts had projected.

And providing a cushion, if not a catalyst, to markets, was an announcement from Fitch Ratings. The firm said that while sequester and a U.S. government shutdown would "erode confidence," it wouldn't prompt a downgrade of the nation's AAA credit rating.

Movers In the Stock Market Today

Market participants are keeping a sharp eye on Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL). The iPhone maker holds its annual shareholder's meeting today at noon. CEO Tim Cook is likely to be asked what the tech giant plans to do with its massive stash of cash – more than $137 billion at last count.

Ahead of the meeting, Apple shares were down $3.11 at $445.80, a far cry from the peak of $705 hit last September.

Priceline.com Inc. (Nasdaq: PCLN) soared $15.20, or 2.2%, to $693 after the online travel site reported Q4 income of $6.77 per share after the close Tuesday. That was up from $5.37 per share in the same period a year ago and better than forecasts of $6.54 EPS.

Shares of Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) fell 1.5% after the retailer reported fourth-quarter profit slumped 2% to $961 million from $981 million as it dealt with stiff competition over the crucial holiday season.

On a positive note, the Minneapolis-based company reported sales surged 6.8% to $22.37 billion. Excluding special items, Target earned $1.65 per share, much better than the $1.05 expected. Dragging shares lower was the company's poor outlook for the full year ahead.

Discount retailer Dollar Tree Inc. (Nasdaq: DLTR) shares jumped $5.20, or more than $16% at $46.26, after posting net income of $228.6 million, or $1.01 a share, for Q4. That was up from $187.9 million or 80 cents a share, in the previous year. The company also guided higher for the rest of 2013.

Also showing improved Q4 numbers was retailer The TJX Companies (NYSE: TJX). Shares gained more than 1% after the company reported a 21% increase in earnings and revenue beat. The Framingham, MA-based company announced an increase in its quarterly dividend from 11.5 cents to 14.5 cents.

After the close, look for numbers from J.C. Penney Co (NYSE: JCP), which is entangled in a dispute with rival Macy's Inc (NYSE: M) over the right to sell items from domestic diva Martha Stewart and her Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. (NYSE: MSO).

Gold gave back $12 to $1603.90 and silver slipped 19 cents to $29.12. That followed solid gains for both on Tuesday, when the yellow metal rose $29 (gold's biggest one day gain of the year) and silver climbed 27 cents.

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