Even as data suggested the economy is improving at a slow but gradual pace, investors were reluctant to buy stocks as potential policy changes and fresh signs of trouble in Greece kept sentiments jittery.  However, the Dow average rose for an eighth straight day, its longest winning run since August 2009.

Boeing (NYSE:BA) advanced 2.1% and was Dow average’s leading gainer. A Bernstein analyst noted Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner program “appears to be making substantial progress.”  Shares in 3M (NYSE:MMM) rose 1.8% and DuPont (NYSE:DD) gained 1.6% as reports showed a rise in Philadelphia manufacturing.  

Financials, however, turned lower, with Bank of America (NYSE:BA) dropping 1.1% and JP Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) falling 0.3%.  Regions Financial (NYSE:RF) fell 2.6%.  A Citigroup (NYSE:C) report saying financials are highly -priced after gains of over 150% since March 9, 2009 market lows and could retreat at current levels also hurt financials.  Moreover, rumors circulated the Fed will raise its discount rate before the next FOMC policy meeting.   AIG (NYSE:AIG) and Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), however, continued higher, up 0.7% and 0.5%, respectively.

Today’s absence of market-moving catalysts may be supplemented by the day’s quadruple witching, contributing to volatility and volume, which the session might otherwise lack. 
Reports that debt-ridden Greece would turn to the International Monetary Fund for financial help if the European Union fails to agree next week to a plan helped the dollar strengthen against the euro.   A strong dollar sent the broad based DJ-UBS commodities index down 0.5%.  Treasury prices declined, with the yield on the 10-year note rising to 3.66% from 3.64% late Wednesday.

The Dow Jones industrial average advanced 45 points, or 0.2%, closing at its highest point since October 1, 2008.  The broader S&P 500 index ended almost unchanged.  The S&P500 however was weighed down by weakness in its oil and gas and basic material shares.  The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite added 2.19 points, or 0.1%, to 2,391.28, its highest close in nearly 19 months.  On the New York Stock Exchange, declining issues beat those that advanced four to three on volume of 922 million shares.
Bellwether FedEx (NYSE:FDX) reported better-than-expected third quarter earnings and sales numbers, helped by higher shipping volume.  The firm averred it is witnessing a “broadening” global recovery, and raised its 2010 projections. 

Zacks Investment Research