S&P Seizes All-Time High on Housing Outlook


NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Major U.S. stock markets ticked higher Tuesday after a Conference Board report showed a strengthening in consumer confidence offset indications of business weakness in the Midwest.

The S&P 500 added 0.25% to 1,597.54, snagging an all-time closing high for the index. The S&P rose 1.81% in April.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index increased in April to a better-than-expected 68.1, up from 61.9 in March. Economists were expecting a rise to 60.8, according to a Thomson Reuters poll. Earlier, the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index reported that its Business Barometer fell 3.4 points to a three and-a-half year low of 49 in April, indicating that business activity weakened in the Midwestern region. It was expected to show an increase to 52.5.

Pitney Bowes (PBI), the biggest percentage decliner in the S&P, plummeted 15.6% to $13.67 after the mailing equipment and software company slashed its second-quarter dividend to 18.75 cents a share and reported first-quarter earnings of 42 cents a share on a 4% decline in revenue to $1.2 billion as its International Mailing sales came in flat from the prior year. Analysts, on average, were expecting earnings of 44 cents on revenue of $1.2 billion.

"Our expectation was low single-digit organic growth for total first-quarter earnings growth , continued expense control by companies and then deploying their cash flow ... and the net net of all of that could get you mid to high single-digit earnings growth," said John Fox, director of research at Fenimore Asset Management, which manages some $1.6 billion. "We're coming in line with that; it might be a little bit light."

Avon Products (AVP) was a winner, hitting a new 52-week high Tuesday as it gained 4.2% to reach $23.17, lifted by stronger-than-forecast first-quarter earnings. The beauty products company was boosted by sales in Brazil and Russia, as well as continued expense reductions.

Best Buy (BBY) was the intraday winner, jumping 7.4% to $25.98 as the electronics retailer exits Europe by agreeing to sell its 50% stake in a joint venture with Carphone Warehouse back to Carphone Warehouse for about $775 million.

The next biggest loser was Newmont Mining (NEM), which tumbled 4.7% to $32.39 after the company's first-quarter results Monday fell short on expectations as profit waned on a slump in gold and copper output.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported before the market open that the Employment Cost Index rose a tame 0.3% in the first quarter after a downwardly-revised 0.4% rise in the fourth quarter, a positive in the Federal Reserve's desire to keep wage inflation in check. The increase was less than the 0.5% increase expected on average by economists, according to a Thomson Reuterssurvey.

Also before the start of regular trading, the S&P/Case-Shiller composite 20-city home price index registered a 9.3% annual gain in February after an 8.1% rise in January. Economists, on average, were expecting 9% annual gain.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.14% to 14,839.80, while the Nasdaq increased 0.66% to 3,328.79. For the month of April, the Dow climbed 1.79% and the Nasdaq rose 1.88%.