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Stocks Finish Higher on Stimulus Chatter; Tech Shares Rally

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Stocks finished higher Friday as an increase in U.S. consumer spending data offset a fall in consumer confidence. Tech shares gained while Citigroup (C) continued to fall after failing the Federal Reserve's latest round of stress tests.

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.36% to 16,323.06 while the S&P 500 was up 0.46% to 1,857.62. The Nasdaq was 0.11% higher to 4,155.76.
  • Personal income and spending for February both rose 0.3%, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The results beat and matched estimates, respectively. Economists were expecting a 0.2% uptick in personal income and 0.3% increase in spending. January personal spending levels were downwardly revised to 0.2% from 0.4%. "It's the downward revision to January's consumption that is the most interesting point -- it suggests downward revision to Q1 real GDP forecasts -- now running in the 1.25%-1.75% range," noted Ian Lyngen, a bond strategist at CRT Capital.
  • Consumer confidence fell to the lowest level in four months during March, to 80 from 81.6 in February. But a gauge which measures Americans' view of their personal finances rose to 95.7 in March from 95.4 a month earlier.
  • Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is urging deepening reforms and economic restructuring in China to help maintain growth at a reasonable pace, the Xinhua news agency reported on Friday. "We have the capability, confidence and condition to maintain economic growth at a reasonable range," said Li during economic development seminar on Wednesday, the news agency reported Friday. "The difficulties and challenges such as the increasing pressure on a downward economy should not be neglected," he added.
  • International markets were higher as the markets took Li's comments as an indicator of China stimulus to come. The UK FTSE 100 settled ahead by 0.41%, the DAX in Germany increased 1.44%, Japan's Nikkei 225 settled up 0.5%, and the Hong Kong Hang Seng closed up 1.06%.
  • In other news, the U.S. House of Representatives is preparing to pass legislation to provide aid to Ukraine and impose more sanctions on Russia. The moves would include $1 billion in loan guarantees and $150 million in direct assistance to Ukraine. President Obama has called on Russia to pull its forces back from Ukraine's border.
  • Tech shares were rallying, with Cognizant Technology Solutions (CTSH) a top gainer in the S&P, up 4.43% after analysts raised their rating on the stock. Microsoft (MSFT) was a top gainer in the Dow, up over 2% while Google (GOOG) added 0.53%. Tesla Motors (TSLA - Get Report) gained 2.44% after the company said it's adding titanium underbody shields and aluminum deflector plates to the Model S to lower fire risks. Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that it has closed its investigation into several fires in the Model S.
  • In other stock news, Restoration Hardware (RH) was gaining 12.73% after forecasting profit above analyst expectations. Top gainers in the S&P also included H&R Block (HRB) and Newmont Mining (NEM), up more than 6.23% and 4.27%, respectively. Citigroup (C) was off 0.42%, adding to its 5.4% loss on Thursday.
  • Major U.S. stock markets dipped Thursday after a disappointing a GDP result, though initial weekly jobless claims continued to fall.

-- By Jane Searle and Andrea Tse in New York

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