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US Stocks Climb As Housing Data Outweighs Weak Labor, Europe Readings

--Stocks rise as upbeat housing data outweighs weak jobless claims, Europe confidence readings --Kansas City Fed manufacturing index lowest since December --S&P 500 hits 1400 for first time in nearly three weeks By Matt Jarzemsky Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- Investors shrugged off disappointing readings on the job market and euro-zone economic confidence, sending the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index to 1400 for the first time in nearly three weeks. The Standard Poor's 500-stock index rose 11 points, or 0.8%, to 1401 in late afternoon trading. The benchmark turned positive after better-than-expected housing data Thursday morning and rose further in the afternoon, headed for its third-straight daily increase. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 129 points, or 1%, to 13221. The Nasdaq Composite added 26 points, or 0.9%, to 3055. "You have strong housing data--which really bodes well for the American consumer--offset by global macro headwinds," said Seth Setrakian, co-head of U.S. equities at First New York Securities. "What people are trying to do is find the best domestic-centric companies to invest in." Homebuilders PulteGroup and Lennar rose 9% and 5.5%, respectively. Software maker Citrix Systems jumped 12% after raising its 2012 profit forecast and reporting better-than-expected earnings. Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil slid 1.3% and United Parcel Service, considered a barometer of global trade because of the breadth of its air and truck delivery operations, retreated 2.3% after both reported profits that missed analysts' expectations. The number of U.S. home buyers who signed contracts to purchase previously owned homes rose sharply more than expected in March to the highest level in nearly two years. The National Association of Realtors said its seasonally adjusted index for pending sales of existing homes jumped 4.1% from a month earlier to 101.4. Economists expected a 1.3% increase, according to a Dow Jones Newswires survey. "Home sales being up that 4%, that's a very big positive, and it shows what the prior gains in jobs and consumer confidence have provided," said Sean Kraus, chief investment officer of CitizensTrust in Pasadena, Calif. Meanwhile, new applications for unemployment benefits fell less than analysts expected last week, a sign the labor market's recovery is slowing. Initial jobless claims decreased by 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 388,000, the Labor Department said. Economists expected a decline to 376,000, according to a Dow Jones Newswires poll. The department also revised the prior week's reading slightly higher. The Kansas City Fed's manufacturing composite index, an average of the indexes covering production, new orders, employment, delivery times and raw-materials inventories, fell to 3 in April from 9 in March. The April index is the lowest since a -2 reading in December 2011. Readings above zero denote expansion. On a year-over-year comparison, the composite index remained at 24. "You had bad economic news all week," said Ron Sloan, senior portfolio manager at Invesco. "It's a sign of a pretty strong tape when it can move up through all of that. Probably, these prices aren't justified." The European Commission's overall economic sentiment indicator fell more than expected to 92.8 in April from 94.5 in March. Economists had been expecting a slight decline to about 94.2. Most Asian markets firmed, with Japan's Nikkei Stock Average up less than 0.1% and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index up 0.8%. China's Shanghai Composite slipped 0.1%. Crude-oil futures added 0.4% to $104.48 a barrel, while gold futures gained 1.1% to settle at $1,659.60 an ounce. The U.S. dollar fell against the euro and the yen. In corporate news, Watson Pharmaceuticals jumped 7.5% after it confirmed plans to buy Swiss rival Actavis, a deal that would make the suitor the third-largest global generic drug maker. Aetna slumped 8.3% after the health insurer reported first-quarter earnings that missed forecasts, with the portion of premiums paid out to cover medical costs increasing. H&R Block slid 10% after forecasting lower 2012 revenue than analysts expected. The tax preparer said it planned to eliminate 350 full-time positions and close about 200 underperforming stores as part of a strategic realignment aimed at saving $85 million to $100 million a year by the end of fiscal 2013. Dow Chemical fell 3.4% after the company's first-quarter earnings edged above estimates but revenue fell short and gross margin declined. Programmable chip maker Xilinx climbed 7.2% after the company reported fiscal fourth-quarter earnings and revenue that exceeded expectations. Skechers surged 15% after the footwear company reported a narrower-than-forecast loss and said it expects to return to profitability later this year. MetroPCS tumbled 11% as it reported sharply slower growth in pay-as-you-go customers in the first quarter and earnings and revenue that missed analysts' forecasts. -By Matt Jarzemsky, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2240; matthew.jarzemsky@dowjones.com

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