First Niagara: Financial Winner

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- First Niagara Financial Group ( FNFG) was the big winner on Monday among major U.S. financial names, with shares rising 2% to close at $9.27.

The broad indices all ended with solid gains, led by Caterpillar ( CAT), which was up 3% to close at $82.71, even though the construction equipment maker reported a decline in first-quarter profit to $880, or $1.31 a share, from $1.586 billion, or $2.37 a share, a year earlier. The company also lowered its profit outlook for 2013 to $7 a share on revenue ranging from $57 billion to $61 billion, from the company's previous profit outlook range of $7 to $9 a share, on revenue ranging from $60 billion to $68 billion.

On a much more positive note, Caterpillar Controller Mike DeWalt said during the company's earnings conference call that the company's direct sales in China "were up in the quarter. All-in, including machines, power systems and parts, we were higher than the first quarter of 2012."

According to a transcript provided by Thomson Reuters, DeWalt added that the company had "made quite significant progress" in lowering its inventory in China, and said "While inventory reduction is expected to continue into the second quarter, we do expect to begin increasing production in China during Q2." Adding to the China growth theme, DeWalt said "for the first time since the first quarter of 2012, our order backlog increased from the prior quarter-end."

In economic news on Monday, the National Association of Realtors reported that existing home sales in the United States declined by a seasonally adjusted 0.6% to an annual rate of 4.92 million in March from a downwardly revised rate of 4.95 million in February. The March sales pace was still up 10.3% from a year earlier. Once again, the NAR blamed declining supply for the slower sales pace. NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said "the good news is home construction is rising and low mortgage rates are continuing to keep affordability conditions at historically favorable levels. The bad news is that underwriting standards remain excessively tight, while renters are getting squeezed by higher rents."

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