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Overnight Markets: Upbeat home data lifts Wall Street

Overnight Markets: Upbeat home data lifts Wall Street

US stocks gained on Monday, sending the benchmark S&P 500 to its highest level since mid-2008, on better-than-estimated housing data and as oil prices retreated after a recent rally.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down one point, or 0.01%, at 12,982. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up two points, or 0.14%, at 1,368. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up two points, or 0.08%, at 2,966.

The S&P 500 rose as high as 1,372, its highest level since June 2008 and topping the previous mark of 1,371, before paring gains.

Shares advanced as more Americans than forecast signed contracts to buy previously owned homes in January, signalling the industry that sparked the last recession is improving.

Financial shares rallied with JPMorgan Chase climbing 2% after CLSA analyst Mike Mayo said it should consider breaking up and selling businesses. Bank of America climbed 2% after the lender and a group of investors that reached an $8.5 billion mortgage-bond settlement with the bank won their bid to remove the case from a federal judge and return it to state court.

Lennar and D.R. Horton rallied more than 1.8% to pace gains in homebuilders. Lowe's, the world's second-largest home improvement chain, reported higher-than-expected quarterly sales, and its shares rose 0.7%.

Micron (MU) Technology, the largest US maker of computer-memory chips, surged 7.7% after Japan-based rival Elpida Memory filed for bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, a drop of about 1% in the price of oil relieved concerns that high energy prices could hurt the still-fragile economic recovery. But energy companies declined with oil prices. Shares of Exxon Mobil ended down 0.1%.

Biotech stocks declined led by Dendreon Corp, which slumped 20.5% after it forecast low-single-digit sales growth in the first quarter.

In Asia, stocks swung between gains and losses on Tuesday as gains in the yen slashed the earnings outlook for Japan’s exporters and Chinese banks surged after government allowed them to lend to local governments for partially completed projects.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index was little changed at 127 as of 10:53 a.m. in Tokyo. Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average slipped 0.7%. South Korea’s Kospi Index rose 0.2% and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index slipped 0.1%, erasing earlier gains. In China, Shanghai Composite Index was down0.1%, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index was up 0.53%.

In company news, Honda Motor lost 1.4% in Tokyo. Hynix Semiconductor gained 6.3%, while China Construction Bank rose 0.6% in Hong Kong.

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