Updated from 3:39 p.m. EDT

Don't Act Surprised

( At 5:40 p.m. EDT)

Here we go again. It's all about the end of the day. Accept it. Everything else is preseason, spring training, a warm-up. Call it whatever you want. The last hour is all that counts. You know it.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average didn't have a lot going on for much of the session Wednesday, so be grateful for the time between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. EDT. At the end of the day, the index had gained 109.44 points, or 1.4%, to close at 8029.62, thanks largely to the final 60 minutes.

Among the 30 stocks, only five fell. None of the losses were that bad. Microsoft ( MSFT) was down 2.7%, and Intel ( INTC) shed 2.4%. Citigroup ( C) nearly erased all of its loss before settling down 4 cents at $3.97.

The winner of the day was American Express ( AXP), up 11.9% at $20.62 after investors took a positive view of its charge-off and delinquency data. It also accounted for more than 17 points of the overall gain in the industrials.

General Motors ( GM) rose 6.2%, and JPMorgan Chase ( JPM), a day before its earnings, was better by 6.1%.

That was the first increase of the week for the Dow, and it left it up 22.6% from its March 9 low and ahead by 5.5% for April. Since 2009 began, the index is 8.5% lower, but the last month-plus has improved that situation considerably.

Now plan to wake up early. JPMorgan's just a few hours away.

It's Better Isn't It?

( At 3:21 p.m. EDT)

The 12 banks of the Federal Reserve System have spoken. The nation's central bankers have collected their data from the various regions around this great land, turned it into the beige book and informed us that the falloff in the economy appears to be showing some signs of moderating.

Sadly, no boost. No pickup. Still flat. The Dow was tacking on a measly 11 points at 7931. What gives? It's better out there, folks.

Personally, I think this observation from RealMoney's Rev Shark makes a lot of sense:

"I'm very concerned that it is going to become much tougher for the market to make more upside progress from this point. We are going to need some real improvement in the economy rather than just slowing in the magnitude of the decline."

Good point. We can't just go along not getting worse forever and expect that to turn things around.

At any rate, the Dow has largely been treading water throughout the session. Citigroup ( C) and Intel ( INTC) remain the downside leaders, each by about 4% of late. American Express ( AXP) was pacing the advancing issues, up 7.4% to $19.80.

We have about 30 minutes left. Now's when it can get very interesting.

For Now, Up a Little

( At 12:30 p.m. EDT)

The Dow has had plenty of news to deal with Wednesday, though so far it's basically amounted to a standstill. The index has traded in a narrow range, 7871 to 7980, and recently it was up 45 points at 7966.

The inflation data signaled consumer prices overall are staying down, but foreclosures might be going up. Capacity utilization and industrial production are falling. New York manufacturing data, however, are looking a little better. The beige book is due later.

A lot going on. By the way, it's earnings season. The beginning of it.

While only eight of the 30 Dow stocks were dropping, three of those were financials. Citigroup ( C) has been rallying lately, though this time it was the worst percentage decliner, losing 6.5% to $3.75. Bank of America ( BAC) was decreasing 5% to $9.59, and American Express ( AXP) was off 2% at $18.06.

Intel ( INTC) was another loser, surrendering 3.7% to $15.42 in the wake of its disappointing forecast.

Wal-Mart's ( WMT) shares were holding up pretty well, slipping just 0.3% to $50.95 despite remarks from CEO Mike Duke that the U.S. economy might not bounce back as soon as most of us hope.

On the plus side, JPMorgan Chase ( JPM), a day ahead of its earnings report, was up 2.6% at $31.50.

As for other advancers, AT&T ( T) is said to be looking to extend its distribution deal for Apple's ( AAPL) iPhone, and its shares were gaining 0.9% to $25.50. Procter & Gamble ( PG) was adding 2.7% to $48.55 after raising its dividend.

Did I mention there was a lot going on? Don't expect it to get any lighter anytime soon.

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