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MARKET SNAPSHOT: U.S. Stocks Rise; Apple Supports Nasdaq

By Laura Mandaro, MarketWatch SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stock indexes rose Monday, extending last week's advance, getting some support from Apple Inc.'s dividend plans and housing data. Tech stocks led, though some bellwethers pulled back. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) shed early losses near midday, rising 18.17 points, or 0.1%, to 13,250.11 as the trading session wound down. Alcoa Inc. (AA) led gainers, up 1.3%. Bank of America Corp. (BAC), earlier the Dow's biggest advancer as shares stretched over $10, turned lower to lead blue-chip losses. Out of 30 components, 18 were higher. The blue-chip index started its recovery after the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo said their builders' sentiment index stayed at its highest level in close to five years. It's the first of a series of housing reports expected this week. They're generally expected to show further signs of improvement for the beaten-down sector. On Tuesday, data on U.S. housing starts for February will be released. While some expected improvement might be due to unseasonably warm weather this winter, that explanation "has been an overhyped story as to why the economy has surprised many analysts to the upside," wrote Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities. The Nasdaq Composite (RIXF) rose 27.17 points, or 0.9%, to 3,082.32. Its biggest component, Apple (AAPL), announced it would start paying a quarterly dividend in its fourth quarter, which runs July through September. Apple shares climbed 2.1% to $597.86. Some tech bellwethers slid, limiting index gains. Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) was down 1% and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) lost 0.5%. "If you were managing some large portfolio for dividend stocks, and you had IBM (IBM), Microsoft or others, now you have the chance to buy Apple," said David Rolfe, Chief Investment Officer with Wedgewood Partners and manager of the RiverPark/Wedgewood Fund (RWGFX). "I think institutional investors who have avoided Apple because it hasn't paid a dividend, might be looking at Apple now and thinking, 'Well what are going to sell to make room for Apple?'" The S&P 500 (SPX), which turned higher ahead of the housing data, rose 7.17 points, or 0.5%, to 1,411.35. Tech stocks gained the most. Sectors known as defensive plays -- utilities, telecoms and health care -- rose the least. Of 10 industry groups, all but one were higher. "The market is pricing in a couple of factors: Growth in the U.S. is likely to be reasonable, and corporate profits still look good," said Stephen Wood, chief market strategist at Russell Investments in New York. Plus, "characteristics of Europe are becoming known, the characteristics of China's [economic] landing are becoming known, and that gives the market the ability to focus on fundamentals on the U.S.," he said. Last week, all three major indexes gained more than 2%, reaching pre- financial-crisis levels.

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