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Stocks Close Mixed as GE, Comcast Shares Jump

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Major U.S. stock averages closed mixed Wednesday as the Dow wavered, and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq advanced amid a jump in General Electric (GE) and Comcast (CMCSA) shares and upbeat eurozone industrial output data.

U.S. retail sales in January, released earlier Wednesday, came in as expected.

General Electric shares gained 3.6% as Comcast reached a deal to buy GE's remaining 49% stake in NBCUniversal for $16.7 billion.

Comcast also raised its quarterly dividend by 20% and reported an 18% increase in fourth-quarter earnings. Comcast shares jumped 3%.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 36 points, or 0.3%, to 13,983, dragged lower by companies including McDonald's (MCD), Merck (MRK) and Coca-Cola (KO).

Overall breadth was slightly positive, as winners outnumbered losers 15 to 13. Top percentage blue-chip gainers included GE, Procter & Gamble (PG), Alcoa (AA) and Cisco (CSCO).

The S&P 500 rose about 1 point to 1,520. The index touched its highest level since November 2007 at an intraday high of more than 1,524.

The Nasdaq gained 10 points, or 0.3%, to 3,197.

Most sectors in the broader market were in the green. Industry leaders included conglomerates and transportation. The consumer cyclical sector was sinking the most, followed by financials.

Volumes totaled 3.36 billion shares on the New York Stock Exchange and 1.81 billion on the Nasdaq. Advancers outpaced decliners by a ratio of 1.4-to-1 on the Big Board and 1.2-to-1 on the Nasdaq.

With the Dow and S&P 500 managing to close at fresh five-year highs Tuesday, many market participants were watching for a near-term retreat.

"With 2013 getting off to a fast start and the S&P 500 posting its best monthly January return since 1997, many investors are now calling for a near-term price correction in the broader market," said Craig Johnson, a senior technical research analyst at Piper Jaffray. "However, we believe the broader market will likely experience one more 'hop' before we get a 'drop' and then a 'pop.'"

President Barack Obama delivered lines Tuesday night in his State of the Union address about how the country has emerged from the rubble of economic crisis, his hope to allow families to more easily refinance their homes and the need for deficit reduction, among other economic issues.

And yet Obama didn't once mention Wall Street, banks or finance.

The Census Bureau reported that retail sales rose by an as-expected 0.1% in January after increasing 0.5% in December. Excluding the auto component, retail sales increased 0.2%, compared with a 0.3% gain in December. That was a bigger increase than the 0.1% advance expected by economists.

Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak, said that, within 13 categories, sales declined across seven and advanced within six. The largest gains were seen in general merchandisers and non-store retailers, which together make up of 22% of total sales.

"There were some signs that consumers stopped spending in the immediate aftermath of the return to norm for payroll taxes at the start of the year," when payroll taxes reverted to 6.5% from 4.5%, Wilkinson said. "However, the broad evidence within the report fails to convince us that consumers have stopped in their tracks."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, meanwhile, said January export prices excluding the agriculture component rose 0.5% in January after a 0.2% drop the previous month. Import prices, factoring out oil, rose 0.2% after dipping 0.1%.

The Census Bureau reported that business inventories rose 0.1% in December after being up by a downwardly revised 0.2%.

Gold for April delivery settled down $4.50 at $1,645.10 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, while March crude oil futures dropped 50 cents to close at $97.01 a barrel.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was down 13/32 to raise the yield to 2.026%. The dollar was up 0.06%, according to the U.S. dollar index.

In corporate news, Cisco Systems (CSCO), the world's largest maker of computer networking equipment, reported fiscal second-quarter earnings of 51 cents a share on $12.1 billion in revenue. Wall Street expected 48 cents a share on revenue of $12.1 billion. Shares added 0.81% during the regular session, but were pushing lower in after hours.

In the year-earlier quarter, Cisco earned $2.2 billion, or 40 cents a share, on revenue of $11.5 billion.

Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) shares were downgraded at Macquarie, Citigroup and Deutsche Bank. The company Tuesday said it reduced its quarterly cash dividend rate by 76% amid recent commodity price volatility. Shares plunged 20%.

Deere (DE) hiked its full-year earnings outlook to $3.3 billion after posting fiscal first-quarter earnings of $1.65 a share on revenue of $7.42 billion. On average, analysts were expecting earnings of $1.40 a share on revenue of $6.72 billion. Shares fell 3.5%.

Dean Foods (DF) said it expects consolidated operating income growth in the low- to mid-single digits in 2013 as it continues to face "some challenges." The company said its focus on volume, cost and pricing effectiveness has yielded significantly improved results and renewed business momentum, but the fluid milk industry remains competitive and management expects 2013 total fluid milk volume to decline in the low-single digits. Shares tumbled 9.2%.

Nvidia (NVDA), the graphics chipmaker, is expected by Wall Street to report fourth-quarter earnings of 24 cents a share after the closing bell. Shares slipped 0.48%.

Metlife (MET) is expected by Wall Street to earn $1.18 a share in the fourth quarter. The company reports after the close. Shares increased 1%.

WellPoint (WLP), the health insurer, announced Tuesday that Joseph Swedish, a veteran hospital executive who has never run a public company, will become its next CEO. Shares slid 4.6%. Swedish comes from Trinity Health, where he was chief executive. He will replace interim CEO John Cannon on March 25.

Groupon (GRPN) shares surged 5.4% after the stock was upgraded to "buy" from "neutral" at Sterne Agee.

J.C. Penney (JCP) shares tacked on 1.8% as the department store operator said it was able to increase its borrowing capacity to $1.85 billion.

Trulia (TRLA) shares soared 22% after the real estate search engine company booked stronger-than-anticipated quarterly results.

-- Written by Andrea Tse and Joe Deaux in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.

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