(By Balachander) U.S. stocks ended sharply higher amid increased hopes that the U.S. Federal Reserve may announce further stimulus measures to spur economic growth.
S&P 500 Index added 0.98 percent to finish at 1,357.98. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.90 percent to end at 12,856.97. The Nasdaq Composite Index jumped 1.19 percent to close at 2,929.76.
The Federal Reserve's monetary policy-setting committee began a two-day meeting today. Investors keenly wait for any comments from the U.S. central bank and Chairman Ben Bernanke on measures to stimulate the economy.
On the domestic front, housing starts in the United States fell 4.8 percent to 708,000 for May, while permits for future building construction rose 7.9 percent to 780,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Economists expected housing starts at 720,000 and building permits of 728,000. In April, housing starts and building permits were revised to 744,000 and 723,000, respectively.
Hot Stocks Of The Day: WAG, BKS, ORCL, MSFT, JCP, IHS, AFFX
In corporate news, Walgreen Co. (NYSE:WAG) retreated 5.85 percent. The drugstore chain said it will be paying $6.7 billion to acquire a 45 percent stake in U.K.'s health and beauty retailer Alliance Boots. The Deerfield, Illinois-based company, which raised its quarterly dividend by 22 percent, also reported a fall in third-quarter earnings as prescription sales fell.
Barnes & Noble Inc. (NYSE:BKS) lost 4.00 percent after the New York-based book retailer posted wider than expected loss for the fourth quarter amid 11 percent drop in sales of its Nook e-reader.
Oracle Corp. (NASDAQ:ORCL) gained 3.10 percent after the Redwood City, California-based enterprise software company posted better than expected earnings for the fourth quarter. ORCL also announced it will repurchase up to $10 million shares.
Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) added 2.88 percent after the Redmond, Washington-based software giant launched its own tablet computer, Surface, in a move to take on Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad.
J.C. Penney Company Inc. (NYSE:JCP) tumbled 8.85 percent after the retailer announced the departure of its President Michael Francis, just eights months since he assumed the role.
IHS Inc. (NYSE:IHS) fell 3.12 percent after the Englewood, Colorado-based market researcher announced a secondary public offering of 8 million shares of its Class A common stock by Conscientia Investment Ltd., the selling stockholder.
Affymetrix Inc. (NASDAQ:AFFX) plunged 12.71 percent. The developer of genetic information technology announced plans to offer $105 million in notes due 2019.
European markets rallied, with Germany's DAX jumping 1.84 percent to close at 6,363.36. France's CAC40 advanced 1.69 percent to finish at 3,117.92. U.K.'s FTSE 100 rose 1.73 percent to end at 5,586.31. The yield on Spain's 10-year government bond remained above 7.13 percent, a level at which Greece and Portugal were forced to seek bailouts. In Greece, efforts are underway to form a coalition government.
Among Asian markets, the Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.65 percent to end at 2,301.00. Hong Kong's Hang Seng edged 0.06 percent lower to close at 19,416.67.Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 0.75 percent to end at 8,655.87. India's BSE Sensex finished at 16,859.80, up 0.92 percent.
Commodity & Currency Scan:
Crude oil futures rose 0.91 percent to $84.030 per barrel while natural gas futures lost 2.85 percent to $2.560 per million metric British thermal units. Gold futures fell 0.37 percent to $1,621.00 per ounce and silver futures declined 0.95 percent to $28.40 per ounce.
In the currency market, the euro added 0.87 percent against the U.S. dollar to 1.2686. The British pound advanced 0.43 percent against the greenback to 1.5734, while the dollar dipped 0.19 percent against the Japanese yen to 78.9600.