(By Balachander) U.S. stocks ended in green as investors weighed a set of better-than-expected economic data and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's testimony in Washington.
The S&P 500 Index rose 0.61 percent to end at 1,496.95. The Dow Jones gained 0.84 percent to finish at 13,900.13. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 0.43 percent to close at 3,129.65.
A report showed that new-home sales - which measures the annualized number of new single-family homes that were sold during the previous month - reached the highest level in well over four years. New-home sales rose to 437,000 from a revised 378,000 in December, topping expectations of 381,000.
The Conference Board's consumer confidence index jumped to 69.6 in February from a revised 58.4 in January, versus expectations of a reading of 61 .
The S&P Case-Shiller house price index - a composite index of 20 metropolitan areas - rose 0.9 percent in December after a 0.7 percent increase in the prior month. Economists expected a reading of 0.6 percent.
Bernanke said the Fed's highly accommodative monetary policy has several potential costs and risks, which the Fed is monitoring closely. The Committee remains confident that it has the tools necessary to tighten monetary policy when the time comes to do so, Bernanke said in his prepared remarks.
Although a long period of low rates could encourage excessive risk-taking, and continued close attention to such developments is certainly warranted, to this point we do not see the potential costs of the increased risk-taking in some financial markets as outweighing the benefits of promoting a stronger economic recovery and more-rapid job creation, Bernanke noted.
Hot Stocks Of The Day: AAPL, HD, M, TSN, AMCX, VSI, VVUS, SSP
In corporate news, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) rose 1.38 percent amid rumors that the technology giant might announce a stock-split at its annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday.
Home Depot Inc. (NYSE: HD) jumped 5.69 percent after the home improvement retailer posted a 32 percent jump in quarterly earnings on higher sales. The company lifted its quarterly dividend by 34 percent to $0.39 cents per share.
Macy's Inc. (NYSE: M) rose 2.78 percent after the apparel retailer issued an upbeat earnings forecast following better-than-expected fourth-quarter results.
Tyson Foods Inc. (NYSE: TSN) declined 3.70 percent after the meat processor said margins were under pressure at its beef and pork segments. The company, however, remains optimistic about its results for the full year.
AMC Networks Inc. (NASDAQ: AMCX) fell 3.56 percent after the cable-network company posted quarterly earnings that trailed market expectations.
Vitamin Shoppe Inc. (NYSE: VSI) plunged 18.63 percent after the company posted lower-than-expected quarterly revenue. Same-store-sales grew 5.2 percent in the fourth quarter versus a rise of 8.2 percent in the same period of last year.
VIVUS Inc. (NASDAQ: VVUS) tumbled 12.25 percent after the biopharmaceutical company reported a wider-than-expected loss for the fourth quarter.
E.W. Scripps Co. (NYSE: SSP) declined 5.46 percent after the media company reported jump in quarterly earnings that missed Wall Street expectations.
European markets closed sharply lower as worries over political instability in Italy dented the sentiment. Germany's DAX lost 2.27 percent to close at 7,597.11. France's CAC40 fell 2.67 percent to finish at 3,621.92. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 shed 1.34 percent to end at 6,270.44.
Asian markets ended sharply lower tracking global cues. The Shanghai Composite Index fell 1.40 percent to end at $2,293.34. Japan's Nikkei 225 lost 2.26 percent to end at 11,398.81. Hong Kong's Hang Seng retreated 1.32 percent to close at 22,519.69. India's Sensex closed at 19,015.14, down 1.64 percent.
Commodity & Currency Scan
Crude oil futures shed 0.52 percent to $92.63 per barrel, while natural gas futures added 0.38 percent to $3.43 per million metric British thermal units. Gold futures advanced 1.67 percent to $1,613.10 per ounce and silver futures jumped 1.11 percent to $29.37 per ounce.
In the currency market, the euro lost 0.01 percent against the U.S. dollar at 1.3062. The British pound fell 0.24 percent against the greenback to 1.5126, while the dollar gained 0.17 percent against the Japanese yen at 91.9800.