Stocks End Mixed as Investors Eye Financials, Market Highs

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stocks finished mixed Wednesday as the markets weighed positive results of bank stress tests against market highs achieved on Tuesday.

The latest round of bank stress tests gave a boost of confidence to buyers in the prior session. On Wednesday, American Express ( AXP) and Bank of America ( BAC) lent some support to the blue-chip index. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 16.4 points, or 0.12%, at 13,194, after finishing at its highest level since December 2007 on Tuesday.

The S&P 500 lost 1.7 points, or 0.1%, at 1394.

Financials wavered throughout the day, while utilities traded in the red, signaling mixed market sentiment. "Financials are important because if they continue to outperform as they had in the previous trading session it means investors are feeling that the financial crisis is continuing to fade away," says Michael Gayed, chief investment strategist at Pension Partners. "It's the opposite if they're underperforming. Because utilities are dividend heavy, outperformance would mean a flight to safety."

The Nasdaq was added 0.9 points, or 0.03%, to close at 3041, after the index closed above the 3000 milestone for the first time since the year 2000.

"Bearishly inclined technicians are likely to persist and once again warn that New York Stock Exchange volume remains too low, making the market vulnerable to a significant selloff," said Ed Yardeni of Yardeni Research. Market watchers note that in the past two years, stocks rallied to a peak in April only to plunge later in the year. "There remains a widespread fear that this year could play out the same way again," added Yardeni.

On Tuesday, JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) surprised the market by announcing an increase in its dividend and a stock buyback. Earlier in the day, the Federal Reserve said that 15 of the 19 largest banks in the U.S. could maintain adequate capital levels even if a recession occurred. In a separate statement, the central bank held back on introducing new monetary stimulus, saying that the economy has seen modest growth. By yesterday's close, the Dow gained more than 200 points.

On Wednesday, Commerce Department reported that higher fuel prices helped push to February import prices by 0.4% after prices stayed unchanged in the previous month. Import prices were expected to gain 0.6%, according to Thomson Reuters. Export prices rose 0.4%, more than the expected 0.2% gain, after a 0.2% rise the month prior.

Germany's DAX closed up 1.19% while London's FTSE eased 0.18%. The Hong Kong Hang Seng closed down 0.15% while the Nikkei Average in Japan gained 1.53% overnight.

In corporate news, a number of banks issued stock buyback announcements after the results of the stress tests were released. Discover Financial Services ( DFS) announced that its board had approved a $2 billion share repurchase program. Shares were up 0.06% to $32.04.

Meanwhile Regions Financial ( RF) announced that it had begun a public offering of about $900 million of common stock as part of its plan to buy back $3.5 billion of series A preferred stock issued to the U.S. Treasury Department under the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Financial stocks were mixed in premarket trading. Regions Financial shares gained 6.9% to $6.17; Citigroup shares fell 3.4% to $35.21; and Metlife shares slid 5.8% to $37.16.

Chesapeake Energy ( CHK) and partners M3 Midstream and EV Energy Partners ( EVEP) plan to build a $900 million pipeline system in eastern Ohio that will process and transport natural gas from the Utica shale. Chesapeake shares were down 1.9% to $24.24.

Specialty retailer Pacific Sunwear ( PSUN) posted a fourth-quarter loss of 19 cents share on sales of $234.2 million, compared with the loss of 22 cents a share on sales of $245.4 million that analysts were expecting. Shares plunged 18.7% to $2.04.

April oil futures were down $1.28 to $105.43. In other commodities, April gold futures settled down $51.30 to $1,642.90 an ounce.

The dollar index was 0.5% higher. The benchmark 10-year Treasury was down 1 12/32, pushing the yield to 2.28%.

-- Written by Andrea Tse and Chao Deng in New York.

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