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.