Apple, 3M lift Wall Street, but financials drag

Stocks rose in a slow session on Tuesday on data showing more stabilization in the economy, while Apple Inc (NasdaqGS:AAPLNews) rallied on a report that it was developing a new iPhone.

With the S&P 500 (^SPXNews) now up 73.4 percent from the March 2009 bottom and on track for a fourth straight quarterly gain, investors chose to lock in profits, with financials taking the brunt of the selling.

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“Stocks are just trickling higher, gains are selective, it’s a short week and being the end of the quarter, people have locked in a lot of their positions,” said Cleveland Rueckert, market analyst at Birinyi Associates Inc in Stamford, Connecticut.

Apple’s stock hit an all-time record closing high of $235.83, up 1.5 percent, after the Wall Street Journal reported that the company was developing a new iPhone to work on Verizon Communications’ (NYSE:VZNews) mobile network. Shares of Verizon, a Dow component, advanced 2.6 percent to $31.23.

A stronger-than-expected report on consumer confidence lent some support to consumer-oriented companies. Macy’s Inc (NYSE:MNews) shot up 2.2 percent to $22.12, while Wal-Mart Stores Inc (NYSE:WMTNews) rose 0.3 percent to $55.91.

The Dow Jones industrial average (DJI:^DJINews) edged up 11.56 points, or 0.11 percent, to end at 10,907.42, not far below the 11,000 mark. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (^SPXNews) added just 0.05 of a point, or 0.00 percent, to 1,173.27. The Nasdaq Composite Index (Nasdaq:^IXICNews) rose 6.33 points, or 0.26 percent, to close at 2,410.69.

Industrials, the best-performing S&P 500 sector this quarter, also rose. Shares of 3M Co. (NYSE:MMMNews) shot up 3.6 percent to $84.28 and provided the Dow’s top boost. A KPMG study showed U.S. manufacturing executives were more upbeat on the recovery than their European Union colleagues.

Even so, trading volumes were light, with Passover and the coming Easter holiday taking participants away from the market, traders said.

With just one trading day left in the first quarter, the S&P 500 is up 5.2 percent for the quarter so far, while the Dow is up 4.6 percent and the Nasdaq is up 6.2 percent.

But Friday’s release of the government’s non-farm payrolls report for March is likely to give the stock market a fresh catalyst to brush up against 18-month highs. The expectation is that the labor market had a significant turnaround last month, according to economists.

March non-farm payrolls are set for release Friday morning even though the stock market will be shut for the Good Friday holiday.

The news on Apple also buoyed chipmakers’ shares. Earlier, Apple hit an all-time intraday high of $237.48. Qualcomm Inc (NasdaqGS:QCOMNews) shares rose 0.9 percent to $42.13, while the PHLX Semiconductor index (^SOXXNews) semiconductor added 0.7 percent.

Financials kept the S&P 500 under pressure, with Bank of America (NYSE:BACNews) shares down 1.6 percent at $17.76.

Citigroup (NYSE:CNews) shares slid 2.2 percent to $4.09 as investors continued to weigh the implications of the U.S. government’s planned sale of its Citi stake.

Worries about Greece’s funding needs lingered a day after an auction of 7-year Greek bonds drew weaker demand than hoped for by some.

On the economic front, U.S. consumer confidence rebounded in March, as optimism about the labor market increased slightly, the Conference Board said. Another report showed that January home prices rose for the eight straight month.

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