S&P Seizes All-Time High on Housing Outlook

This article has been updated to reflect John Fox's full title

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Major U.S. stock markets ticked higher Tuesday after a Conference Board report showed a strengthening in consumer confidence offset indications of business weakness in the Midwest.

The S&P 500 added 0.25% to 1,597.54, snagging an all-time closing high for the index. The S&P rose 1.81% in April.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index increased in April to a better-than-expected 68.1, up from 61.9 in March. Economists were expecting a rise to 60.8, according to a Thomson Reuters poll. Earlier, the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index reported that its Business Barometer fell 3.4 points to a three and-a-half year low of 49 in April, indicating that business activity weakened in the Midwestern region. It was expected to show an increase to 52.5.

Pitney Bowes ( PBI), the biggest percentage decliner in the S&P, plummeted 15.6% to $13.67 after the mailing equipment and software company slashed its second-quarter dividend to 18.75 cents a share and reported first-quarter earnings of 42 cents a share on a 4% decline in revenue to $1.2 billion as its International Mailing sales came in flat from the prior year. Analysts, on average, were expecting earnings of 44 cents on revenue of $1.2 billion.

"Our expectation was low single-digit organic growth for total first-quarter earnings growth , continued expense control by companies and then deploying their cash flow ... and the net net of all of that could get you mid to high single-digit earnings growth," said John Fox, director of research at Fenimore Asset Management, which manages some $1.6 billion. "We're coming in line with that; it might be a little bit light."

Avon Products ( AVP) was a winner, hitting a new 52-week high Tuesday as it gained 4.2% to reach $23.17, lifted by stronger-than-forecast first-quarter earnings. The beauty products company was boosted by sales in Brazil and Russia, as well as continued expense reductions.

Best Buy ( BBY) was the intraday winner, jumping 7.4% to $25.98 as the electronics retailer exits Europe by agreeing to sell its 50% stake in a joint venture with Carphone Warehouse back to Carphone Warehouse for about $775 million.

The next biggest loser was Newmont Mining ( NEM), which tumbled 4.7% to $32.39 after the company's first-quarter results Monday fell short on expectations as profit waned on a slump in gold and copper output.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported before the market open that the Employment Cost Index rose a tame 0.3% in the first quarter after a downwardly-revised 0.4% rise in the fourth quarter, a positive in the Federal Reserve's desire to keep wage inflation in check. The increase was less than the 0.5% increase expected on average by economists, according to a Thomson Reuters survey.

Also before the start of regular trading, the S&P/Case-Shiller composite 20-city home price index registered a 9.3% annual gain in February after an 8.1% rise in January. Economists, on average, were expecting 9% annual gain.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.14% to 14,839.80, while the Nasdaq increased 0.66% to 3,328.79. For the month of April, the Dow climbed 1.79% and the Nasdaq rose 1.88%.

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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