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Stocks Climb Higher on Economic Outlook

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. stocks climbed higher, with the S&P 500 closing less than 2 points from its all-time high, Tuesday after a jump in U.S. durable goods orders and home prices bolstered the outlook for the world's largest economy.

Not even a tepid report from the Conference Board could slow the market. The board's Consumer Confidence Index fell more than expected to 59.7 in March from 69 in February; economists expected a dip to 68 this month.

The S&P 500 was rising 0.7% to 1,562.95. The index reached an all-time high of 1,565 in October 2007.

Monsanto (MON), a provider of agricultural products, closed among the S&P's top performers on Tuesday after the company reached a deal with DuPont (DD) to drop antitrust and soybean patent lawsuits against each other. The companies said they would enter into a series of technology licensing agreements to expand the range of genetically modified seed products they can offer farmers. Shares of Monsanto popped 4.4% to $103.79.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average increased 0.77% to 14,559.65. The Nasdaq climbed 0.53% to 3,252.48.

The Census Bureau reported that durable goods orders rose 5.7% in February after falling by an upwardly revised 3.8% in January; economists were looking for durable goods orders to rise 3.8% in February. Commercial aircraft orders rose, pointing to an uptrend in manufacturing activity and capital spending.

"The guts of the report seem sufficiently strong to buoy the stock market in the face of a fragile situation on the continent," Andrew Wilkinson, the New York City-based chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co. said in a note. There's "little evidence arguing against a still robust economic recovery in the world's largest economy," he added.

The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index showed a year-on-year increase of 8.1% in January, making it the best read on this indicator since the start of the housing downturn in mid-2006 and exceeding expectations for a 7.9% rise, after advancing 6.8% in December, confirming the positive outlook for home prices this year that for homeowners may offset the pain of higher payroll taxes.

RF Micro Devices (RFMD) was rallying 6.9% to $5.25 after the maker of radio frequency and small semiconductor products was upgraded to outperform from perform at Oppenheimer by analyst Rick Schafer due to evidence of increasing demand for its products from the high-tech industry. Samsung for instance is using them more heavily in the Galaxy S 4 smartphone than in the Galaxy S 3, according to Schafer.

Netflix (NFLX - Get Report) tacked on 5.5% to $190.70 after Pacific Crest analyst Andy Hargreaves raised his price target on the movie streaming company to $225 from $160 after increasing his profit margin and subscriber-growth outlook for the company. He said that Netflix has the capacity to buy and develop top, original content with mass appeal through its access to a wealth of data about its audience.

Sonic Corporation (SONC - Get Report) jumped 9.7% to $12.87 after the drive-in restaurant chain said in afterhours trading Monday that it expects same-store sales in its current fiscal year to rise in the low single-digit range.

The company posted fiscal second-quarter earnings on Monday of $3.6 million, or 6 cents a share, up from year-earlier profit of $1.7 million, or 3 cents a share. Adjusted earnings in the quarter were 5 cents a share, in line with analysts' estimates. Revenue fell to $111.1 million from $115.1 million a year earlier; analysts forecast sales of $113.1 million.

The Census Bureau reported that new-home sales fell in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 411,000 from a downwardly revised annualized rate of 431,000; this was a steeper than the expected decline to a 422,000 annual pace. Still, the average sales price of new houses sold in February rose to $313,700 from $295,200 in January.

Safe-haven asset prices were stuck in neutral territory as investor confidence strengthened. The benchmark 10-year Treasury was increasing 3/32, diluting the yield to 1.915%, as the dollar slipped 0.05%, according to the U.S. dollar index.

May crude oil futures spiked $1.53 to $96.34 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Children's Place Retail Stores (PLCE - Get Report) lost 3.2% to $44.51 after the retailer forecast a decline in both fiscal 2013 and first-quarter earnings as the weak economic environment causes consumers to rein in spending and weather patterns work against the company.

Children's Place is forecasting first-quarter earnings of 60 cents to 65 cents a share, down from $1.14 a share the same-quarter last year based on predictions for negative high-single digit same-store sales. Full-year earnings are expected to be between $2.90 and $3.10 a share compared with $3.25 a year ago.

Ziopharm Oncology (ZIOP - Get Report) plummeted 65% to $1.82 after the company said Tuesday that it is scrapping the development of palifosfamide after the sarcoma drug failed to benefit patients in a pivotal phase III clinical trial.

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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SYM TRADE IT LAST %CHG
RFMD $16.59 -2.07%
ZIOP $11.22 0.00%
NFLX $658.31 0.00%
PLCE $65.61 0.00%
SONC $27.79 0.00%

Markets

DOW 17,730.11 -27.80 -0.16%
S&P 500 2,076.78 -0.64 -0.03%
NASDAQ 5,009.2140 -3.9090 -0.08%

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