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January 25th, 2010
06:45 PM ET

Financial Dispatch: Stocks inch higher

Andrew Torgan
CNN Financial News Producer

Stocks on Wall Street managed some slight gains today as investors weighed worries about the bank sector, the likelihood of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke being confirmed for a second term and a troubling report on the housing market.

The Dow added 23 points or 0.2%. The S&P 500 added 5 points or 0.5% and the Nasdaq also gained 5 points or 0.3%.

Stocks plunged last week after President Obama proposed new limits on banks and talk swirled that Bernanke's term may not be renewed. In three sessions, the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq all slumped 5%.

But those worries were tempered today at the start of a busy week for economic and earnings news. This week brings a Fed meeting, the first reading on fourth-quarter GDP growth, the president's State of the Union address and profit reports from a slew of major companies – including DuPont, Johnson & Johnson, and Travelers.

First out of the gate with earnings this week is Apple, which reported another strong quarter after the closing bell on the back of its current product lineup, which includes iPhones, iPods and Macintosh computers.

Apple said net income for the quarter ended Dec. 31 surged 50% from a year earlier to $3.4 billion. Sales, meanwhile, rose 32% to a record $15.7 billion, crushing forecasts of $12.1 billion. That marks the second-straight quarter in which Apple posted record revenue.

A 100% year-over-year rise in iPhone sales and a 33% increase in Mac sales helped drive Apple's results. The company said it sold a record 8.7 million iPhones in the quarter. That's up 17.6% from the 7.4 million it sold in the previous quarter and double what it sold during the same quarter a year ago.

And even though iPod sales continued to slump, falling 8% for the quarter, Apple still managed to sell 21 million of them.

All this comes as the company gears up for its widely anticipated announcement of a new tablet computer on Wednesday.

While iPhones may be selling like hotcakes, houses are not.

Sales of previously-owned homes tumbled in December, the month after a federal tax credit was slated to expire.

The National Association of Realtors says sales plunged 16.7% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.45 million units, down from the revised rate of 6.54 million in November.

One glimmer of hope however - sales were up 15% on a year-over-year basis. Previously-owned homes, known as “existing homes” are by far the biggest segment of the real estate market in the U.S.

Sales had been expected to decline from November to December, because November was slated to be the last month in which first-time home buyers could qualify for an $8,000 federal tax credit. Lawmakers have since extended that deadline through April 30, adding a new credit of up to $6,500 for some existing home owners who move.

Other numbers to keep an eye on… the median price of homes sold in December was $178,300, a 1.5% gain over December 2008. That was the first year-over-year gain in the median price since August 2007. Distressed properties made up 32% of the houses sold during the month.

And total housing inventory fell 6.6% to 3.29 million existing homes for sale. That's a 7.2-month supply at the current selling pace, up from a 6.5-month supply in November.

Finally, Sam's Club is cutting more than 11,000 jobs as the struggling Wal-Mart unit faces increased competition from rival warehouse retail chains.

The company announced Sunday it will eliminate 10,000 jobs, or about 10% of its workforce, as part of a plan to turn over its product-demonstration program to Shopper Events, an outside marketing firm. The majority of the job cuts will be part-time workers, Sam's Club said.

The announcement comes weeks after the company closed 10 stores nationwide and eliminated 1,500 jobs.

Taken together, the job cuts are the largest in Wal-Mart's history, according to one retail consulting firm.

Follow the money… on Twitter: @AndrewTorganCNN


Filed under: Andrew Torgan • Economy • Finance • Housing Market • Technology
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