Stocks Boosted By Economic Data

The Dow industrials ended just short of a new record high Tuesday, helped by better-than-expected profits at companies such as Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and data showing tamer inflation.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 52.58 points, or 0.41 percent, to end at 12,773.04. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index advanced 3.01 points, or 0.20 percent, to finish at 1,471.48. The Nasdaq Composite Index, however, slipped 1.38 points, or 0.05 percent, to 2,516.95.

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Shares of health-care company Johnson & Johnson and Coca-Cola Co. (COKE), which also beat Wall Street forecasts, led advances in the Dow and the S&P 500.

The Labor Department said the core Consumer Price Index, excluding food and energy, rose at a muted pace last month.

"The core CPI number was a big sigh of relief," said Mark Bronzo, managing director at Nationwide Separate Accounts LLC in Irvington, New York. "For people arguing we're in a stagflation environment of slower growth and higher inflation, that number sort of eases those concerns. On top of that, we got some good earnings from blue-chip names."

The Nasdaq ended down slightly ahead of results expected this week from some key technology companies.

The Dow's lifetime intraday high of 12,795.93 was hit Feb. 20, a week before the Feb. 27 global sell-off hit equities. During Tuesday's regular trading, the Dow hit a session high at 12,790.02 -- briefly surpassing its record close of 12,786.64, also set on Feb. 20.

After the close, International Business Machines Corp. and Intel Corp. reported earnings. Intel shares jumped 3 percent in electronic trading after the bell while IBM shares gained 1.4 percent.

Stronger-than-expected data on housing starts and building permits, released before the opening bell, eased concerns about the extent of a housing slowdown.

Another report showed U.S. industrial production unexpectedly fell in March.

Home builders' shares gained after the housing data, with Toll Brothers Inc. rising 2.1 percent to $28.79, while Beazer Homes climbed 2.7 percent to $30.48.

Shares of Coca-Cola, the world's largest beverage company, rose 2.6 percent to $51.57. It said results were helped by the continued rollout of Coke Zero.

Johnson & Johnson's stock gained 2.4 percent to $64.55.

"Expectations for earnings were relatively low, and so far the numbers aren't bad," Bronzo said.

First-quarter profit growth for S&P 500 companies is projected at 4.5 percent, according to Reuters Estimates.

EMC Corp., the top maker of corporate data storage equipment, also reported results that beat the average analyst forecast. Its shares rose 3.1 percent to $15.22.

Volume was moderate on the NYSE, where about 1.58 billion shares changed hands, below last year's estimated daily average of 1.84 billion. On Nasdaq, about 1.97 billion shares traded, below last year's daily average of 2.02 billion.

Advancing stocks and declining issues were almost evenly matched on the NYSE, where 1,616 stocks rose and 1,696 shares fell.

On Nasdaq, decliners outnumbered advancers by a ratio of about 3 to 2.

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