March 01 - Summary of business headlines: Manufacturing activity and auto sales help offset sequester jitters, sending stocks higher; Is Best Buy back from the dead? Conway G. Gittens reports.
It's the kind of trend bulls like to see - the Dow has climbed every Friday this year. It almost didn't happen, but blue chips ditched a steep loss to climb 35 points. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were slightly higher as well. The Dow is up two weeks in a row with a gain of 0.6 percent. The Nasdaq is up a mere 0.3 percent. Manufacturing activity helped investors overlook Washington inactivity. Growth in the U.S. factory sector expanded at the fastest pace in 20 months, offsetting gloom in other parts of the world. Autos were another strong spot. February auto sales topped an annual sales rate of more than 15 million units for a fourth straight month. The industry hasn't seen that in five years. February's sales gains were a bit of a surprise given the run-up to forced spending cuts in Washington and higher payroll taxes at home. But according to Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman at Edmunds.com, executives from car companies and large dealers say getting consumers to close the deal was not easy. SOUNDBITE: JEREMY ANWYL, VICE CHAIRMAN, EDMUNDS.COM (ENGLISH) SAYING: "The numbers are pretty good but the amount of effort, and this obviously is not a bad thing to have to be working hard to make sales, but they - I think there is enough concern in the marketplace about how difficult it is to kind of hit these numbers, that suggests that consumers - are their inclination is to pullback a little bit but we just haven't seen that translate into actual sales. So I think we may see some friction in the months ahead." Is Best Buy back from the dead? The world's largest consumer electronics chain lost far less money during the holiday-shopping quarter compared to the prior year, key same-store sales were up thanks to resurging demand for TVs in the U.S. Meanwhile, founder Richard Schulze has ditched plans to take the company private due to lack of financing and Best Buy revealed a number of other offers were inadequate. So Best Buy is going it alone and investors bid the stock up 4.6 percent. Finally, European manufacturing data show the region continues to struggle outside of Germany. Stocks were down in most of the major markets with the U.K. an exception.