The major averages closed broadly higher after being mixed at midday following yesterday's gains that that left the Dow and S&P 500 at record highs. Today's robust housing starts report adds to the upbeat picture of the U.S. economy presented by yesterday's strong data on retail sales and unemployment claims. Investors continue to chew on big bank earnings as they await another spate of earnings reports next week.
ECONOMIC EVENTS: In the U.S., housing starts rose 19.4% to a 1.74M rate in March, which was much stronger than expected, while March building permits bounced 2.7% to a 1.77M rate. The University of Michigan consumer sentiment survey reading increased 1.6 points to 86.5 in the preliminary April report. In energy news, Baker Hughes reported that the U.S. rig count is up 7 from last week at 439 with oil rigs up 7 to 344.
TOP NEWS: Bank earnings continue to be in focus as Morgan Stanley (MS) reported better than expected results for the first quarter, with the company saying on its quarterly call that the quarter was marked by "numerous performance records." Of note, the lender said that its losses related to the Archegos exit was "money well spent."
Morgan Stanley wasn't alone when it came to bank earnings this morning, with Bank of New York Mellon (BK), Citizens Financial (CFG), and State Street (STT) all reporting upbeat quarterly earnings and revenue. Despite the results, all three banks' shares were trading flat to lower near noon, with State Street slipping over 6%.
In other bank news, Mint reported that Citi (C) is in discussions to sell its credit card and wealth management divisions in India.
Alexion Pharmaceuticals (ALXN) shares rose almost 4% after AstraZeneca's (AZN) proposed acquisition of the company "achieved an important step toward completion," having cleared U.S. Federal Trade Commission review. "The announcement follows competition clearances in Canada, Brazil, Russia and other countries globally, with a full list available on astrazeneca.com. Additional global regulatory clearances are pending, including but not limited to the UK, EU and Japan," AstraZeneca added.
On the COVID-19 front, Bloomberg reported last night that CDC advisers are tentatively set to reconvene late next week to resume their talks of how to respond to a rare side effect of Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ) COVID-19 vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will likely meet Thursday or Friday of next week, chairman Jose Romero told Bloomberg. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported that J&J reached out privately to rivals producing COVID-19 vaccines to ask them to join an effort to study the risks of blood clots and to speak about safety. According to people familiar with the matter, AstraZeneca was interested in joining forces to investigate the safety issue and communicate vaccine benefits and risks, but Pfizer (PFE) and Moderna (MRNA) didn't see the need for group action, the WSJ report said.
Meanwhile, Boeing (BA) shares fell over 1% after Reuters reported that inspections of the company's 737 MAX aircraft have discovered additional electrical problems of the kind that led to dozens of such planes being suspended from service last week. Bloomberg later said that the review found an electrical issue in two new areas and repairs are expected to take a few days per plane.
Additionally, Squarespace (SQSP) filed to list its Class A common shares on the NYSE under the symbol "SQSP." The company intends to pursue a direct listing and not a "traditional" IPO.
MAJOR MOVERS: Among the noteworthy gainers was Lattice Semiconductor (LSCC), which rose 13.2% after it was named to join the S&P 400. Also higher were PPG Industries (PPG) and Alcoa (AA), which gained a respective 8.7% and 8.5% after reporting quarterly results.
Among the notable losers was Editas Medicine (EDIT), which declined 15.4% after Goldman Sachs analyst Madhu Kumar initiated coverage with a Sell rating and $20 price target. Also lower was Splunk (SPLK), which fell 9.5% after announcing chief technology officer Tim Tully will be resigning from the company in May.
INDEXES: The Dow rose 164.68, or 0.48%, to 34,200.67, the Nasdaq gained 13.58, or 0.097%, to 14,052.34, and the S&P 500 advanced 15.05, or 0.36%, to 4,185.47.