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Dow Hits Five-Year High on Bernanke Comments, Data

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Major U.S. stock averages surged Wednesday, with the Dow within striking distance from its all-time high, on a raft of good economic data and as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke signaled ongoing support for accommodative monetary policies.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged 175.24 points, or 1.26%, at 14,075, just off its all-time closing high of 14,164. The blue-chip index rose by triple digits for a second day in a row.

The S&P 500 jumped 19.05 points, or 1.27%, to close at 1,516. The Nasdaq increased 32.61 points, or 1.04%, to finish at 3,162.26.

Technology shares were among the top percentage performers in the broader market even as investors monitored developments out of Apple's (AAPL) annual shareholders' meeting.

CEO Tim Cook said that innovation is the best way to add value for shareholders. He also said that Apple is actively thinking about returning cash to shareholders. The investment community has been concerned about what the iPhone maker planned to do with its massive cash hoard of more than $137 billion.

During the meeting, Cook once again dismissed a lawsuit by Greenlight Capital's David Einhorn as a "silly" sideshow. Shares dropped 0.98% in volatile trading as Cook addressed stakeholders.

The markets continued to pay close attention to Bernanke's comments as he continued his semi-annual testimony before Congress.

Speaking before the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday, Bernanke said, though, that the Fed alone couldn't bear the entire burden of spurring the economic recovery, and urged lawmakers to find alternatives to the sequestration ahead of a March 1 deadline.

On Wednesday, Bernanke gave his semi-annual testimony before the House Financial Services Committee in Washington. He reiterated his continued support for easy monetary policy and once again voiced his concerns about the looming spending cuts in Washington.

Gold for April delivery fell $19.80 to settle at $1,595.70 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, while April crude oil futures were up 22 cents to $92.85 a barrel.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was shedding 5/32, diluting the yield to 1.901%. The dollar was falling 0.37%, according to the U.S. dollar index.

The Census Bureau reported that durable goods orders fell 5.2% in January after rising 3.7% in December. Excluding transportation, orders rose 1.9% after a 1% increase the prior month. Economists were expecting durable goods orders to fall 3.5% in January and the number to rise 0.2% excluding the transportation component.

The National Association of Realtors said its pending home sales index rose 4.5% in January after falling 1.9% the previous month. Economists were forecasting a rise of 1%.

"Between this report and the upside surprises in the housing market data released yesterday (prices for December and new home sales for January), housing market activity appears to have ended 2012 on a positive note and is off to a strong start in 2013," said Cooper Howes, U.S, economist for Barclays.

In corporate news, Groupon (GRPN), reported after the closing bell a fourth-quarter loss of 12 cents a share on revenue of $638.3 million. Analysts forecast the daily deals site to report a profit of 3 cents a share on sales of $638.4 million after the markets close. Shares rose 7.8% during the regular session, but were plummeting more than 23.5% in after hours trades.

Priceline.com (PCLN), the travel Web site operator, said Tuesday that fourth-quarter net income rose 28%, as bookings on its Web sites jumped 33% to about $6.6 billion in the quarter. Shares popped 2.8%.

Coach (COH) shares added 2.8% amid rumors that the luxury goods company is thinking about selling itself, and following its announcement of new appointments to its creative team, including Zach Augustine. Augustine joins Coach from Nike, where he held the role of global creative director.

First Solar (FSLR), the solar panel manufacturer, swung to a profit in the fourth quarter but issued first-quarter net income and sales guidance below analysts' forecasts. Shares plunged 13.8%.

Accretive Health (AH), a provider of services to the health care industry, announced that it will postpone the release of its financial results for the fourth quarter and full-year 2012, as well as its previously announced investor conference call scheduled for Wednesday, because it is evaluating the timing of revenue recognition for its revenue cycle management agreements. Shares plummeted 21%.

Edison International (EIX) booked better-than-expected quarterly earnings. Shares rose 2.4%.

Target (TGT) shares fell 1.5% after the company reported that its fourth-quarter gross margin rate declined to 27.8% in 2012 from 28.4% in 2011.

DreamWorks Animation (DWA) shares fell 1.8% after the company reported a quarterly loss of $82.7 million, or 98 cents a share, including the impact of a write-down of film costs for "Rise of the Guardians" and charges related to the decision to return "Me & My Shadow" back to development.

Dollar Tree (DLTR) shares popped 10.5% after the discount store operator posted stronger-than-anticipated quarterly results as same-store sales increased 2.4%.

-- 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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