(By Balachander) U.S. stocks closed modestly higher, weighed by the Bank of Japan's decision to expand its stimulus measures and solid domestic housing data.
S&P 500 Index gained 0.12 percent to finish at 1,461.05. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.10 percent to end at 13,577.80. The Nasdaq Composite Index added 0.15 percent to close at 3,182.62.
The Bank of Japan increased the size of its asset-purchase target by 10 trillion yen to 80 trillion yen ($1.01 trillion) and extended the timescale for completing the program by six months to the end of 2013.
On the data front, a report showed that existing home sales in the United States hit a two-year high for the month of August. The National Association of Realtors said existing home sales rose 7.8 percent to an annual rate of 4.82 million last month from 4.47 million in July, also topping economists expectations of a rise to 4.55 million.
Meanwhile, U.S. housing starts rose 2.3 percent to 750,000 for August, while permits for future building construction fell 1.0 percent to 803,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Economists expected housing starts at 765,000 and building permits of 796,000.
Hot Stocks Of The Day: QCOR, GRPN, CBRL, AZO, GIS, ASNA, RMTR
In corporate news, Questcor Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOR) slumped 47.82 percent amid reports that health insurer Aetna (AET) was limiting its coverage for the company's multiple sclerosis treatment Acthar gel.
Groupon Inc. (NASDAQ:GRPN) surged 13.86 percent after the daily deals site launched a new payments service - Groupon Payments - claiming it to be the lowest cost option for credit-card transactions.
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. (NASDAQ:CBRL) added 5.80 percent after the company's fourth-quarter earnings nearly doubled on double-digit revenue growth.
AutoZone Inc. (NYSE:AZO) rose 3.35 percent after the retailer of automotive replacement parts posted its fourth-quarter results. Its earnings topped consensus, while sales trailed market expectations.
General Mills Inc. (NYSE:GIS) rose 1.81 percent after the company reported higher quarterly profit and sales, and the maker of branded consumer foods reaffirmed fiscal 2013 forecast. Earnings topped market, expectations, while sales missed consensus.
Ascena Retail Group Inc. (NASDAQ:ASNA) trimmed losses after the clothing chain guided 2013 earnings below market expectations and posted lower quarterly net income. Shares closed 0.95 percent lower.
Ramtron International (NASDAQ:RMTR) jumped 7.32 percent after the semiconductor maker agreed to be acquired by Cypress Semiconductor Corp. (NASDAQ:CY) for $3.10 per share in cash.
Adobe Systems Inc. (NASDAQ:ADBE) is expected to post third-quarter earnings of 58 cents a share on revenue of $1.10 billion.
Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (NASDAQ:BBBY) is expected to report second-quarter earnings of $1.02 a share on sales of $2.54 billion.
European markets closed in green, with Germany's DAX up 0.59 percent to close at 7,390.76. France's CAC40 advanced 0.54 percent to finish at 3,531.82. U.K.'s FTSE 100 rose 0.35 percent to end at 5,888.48.
Asian markets ended higher, with China's Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index up 0.40 percent to finish at 2,067.83. Japan's Nikkei 225 jumped 1.19 percent to end at 9,232.21. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index gained 1.16 percent to close at 20,841.91. India's BSE Sensex was closed for a holiday.
Commodity & Currency Scan:
Crude oil futures retreated 3.58 percent to $91.88 per barrel while natural gas futures rose 0.29 percent to $2.781 per million metric British thermal units. Gold futures inched up 0.15 percent to $1,773.8 per ounce while silver futures slipped 0.05 percent to $34.70 per ounce.
In the currency market, the euro added 0.06 percent against the U.S. dollar to 1.3055. The British pound edged 0.14 percent lower against the greenback to 1.6221, and the dollar fell 0.56 percent against the Japanese yen to 78.3700.