Feb. 27 - Summary of business headlines: Blue chips less than 100 points away from an all-time high as data point to business spending pick-up, Bernanke signals all-clear on QE3 and investors gobble up Italian debt. Losses, however, deepen at J.C. Penney. Conway G. Gittens reports.
Another triple-digit rally puts blue chips less than 100 points away from touching a new record, making Monday's brutal sell-off a distant memory. The day's gains were broad with the Dow, S&P 500 and the Nasdaq all up one or more percent. Durable goods orders set the tone for the day. Orders for big ticket items, excluding defense and aircraft, surged by the biggest amount since December 2011, a promising sign since that component is considered a proxy for business spending plans. Meanwhile, signed contracts for home purchases rose to their highest in nearly 3 years - continuing the pace of upbeat signals from the housing market. In his second day of testimony on Capitol Hill, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told lawmakers he didn't see the unemployment rate falling to 6 percent until the year 2016. Investors took that as more reassurance the Fed is nowhere near ending its third round asset purchase program known as QE3. After the close, J.C. Penney - still struggling. Sales at stores opened at least a year tumbling 31.7 percent during the crucial holiday season, that's a bigger drop than expected; total fourth-quarter sales and profits also worse than forecast. Target had its worst holiday selling quarter in four years, but the discount retailer is upbeat about the current quarter and the year. Forced spending cuts go into effect Friday. President Obama will meet with top lawmakers to avoid the cuts. But if no deal is reached, there will likely be an impact on U.S. food supply, warns Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. SOUNDBITE: U.S. AGRICULTURE SECRETARY TOM VILSACK (ENGLISH) SAYING: "When the inspectors are not able to work because of the furlough, the line or the facility in which they are working cannot produce meat, poultry or process eggs, because we have to be there - present while meat is being processed in order for it to be able to receive the mark to allow it go into the stream of commerce, so as soon as those inspectors walk off the floor, so to speak, that place has to shut down." Wrapping up with a look at Europe, stock markets rallied from Germany to France to the U.K. as investors gobble up Italian debt despite political uncertainties.