US STOCKS-Wall St extends gains following Fed minutes

Wed Apr 9, 2014 2:37pm EDT

* Minutes show Fed officials unanimous in changing rates guidance

* Major indexes hit session highs following Fed minutes

* Indexes up: Dow 1 pct, S&P 0.9 pct, Nasdaq 1.4 pct (Updates with Fed minutes)

By Angela Moon

NEW YORK, April 9 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks jumped on Wednesday, with the three major indexes hitting session highs, after minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting showed a more supportive central bank than previously expected.

The Dow and the Nasdaq rose more than 1 percent with internet and biotech stocks leading the gains. Facebook shares jumped 5.6 percent to $61.45.

Fed policymakers were unanimous in wanting to ditch the thresholds they had been using to telegraph a policy tightening, according to minutes of a meeting last month that shed little new light on what might prompt an eventual interest-rate rise.

"People are taking solace in the idea that the Fed may be more accommodative than previously thought, for longer than previously thought," said Steve Sosnick, equity-risk manager at Timber Hill/Interactive Brokers Group in Greenwich, Connecticut.

"That's giving the lift to stocks."

Alcoa Inc gained 3.6 percent to $12.98 as the best performer on the S&P 500 after earnings came in ahead of analysts' expectations.

S&P 500 companies' first-quarter earnings are projected to have increased just 1 percent from a year ago, Thomson Reuters data showed, down sharply from the start of the year, when profit growth was estimated at 6.5 percent.

U.S. stocks had advanced in the prior session to snap a three-day losing streak as investors bought beaten-down social media and Internet shares.

Despite the three-day selloff, the benchmark S&P 500 index managed to hold above its 50-day moving average around 1,840, a key support level. The index has successfully defended the 1,840 area several times over the past month.

The Nasdaq biotechnology index was up 3.6 percent and the Global X social media index was up 2.9 percent at $19.02.

"In recent days, in general, large caps outperformed small caps, and low-beta companies outperformed those with higher betas," said U.S. Bank Wealth Management's equity research team in a note to clients. Low beta refers to less volatile stocks that also offer less potential return.

"While investor sentiment remains fragile, we continue to maintain a constructive outlook for equities, believing that the path of least resistance is still up."

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 157.29 points or 0.97 percent, to 16,413.43, the S&P 500 gained 16.76 points or 0.9 percent, to 1,868.72 and the Nasdaq Composite added 56.685 points or 1.38 percent, to 4,169.671.

Earnings season gets under way this week, with results due from retailer Bed, Bath & Beyond after the close, while financials JPMorgan Chase & Co and Wells Fargo & Co close out the week with results on Friday.

Investors will be looking at the impact of harsh winter weather on first-quarter earnings, and signs of optimism for the second-quarter.

U.S. wholesale inventories rose at a slower 0.5 percent pace in February, in line with expectations, after a revised 0.8 percent gain in January, which could support views that restocking did not help the economy in the first quarter.

General Motors Co shares lost 1.8 percent to $33.91. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fined the automaker $7,000 a day for missing an April 3 deadline to provide information about its recall of 2.6 million cars for defective ignition switches. Morgan Stanley subsequently cut the stock to "underweight."

Intuitive Surgical Inc estimated first-quarter revenue well below analysts' expectations, mainly due to a 60 percent drop in sales of its flagship da Vinci robot system. Its shares slumped 7 percent to $455.94.

Shares of Blackstone-backed hotel chain La Quinta Holdings Inc made a subdued market debut as investors took the view the stock was fully priced in a crowded IPO market. Shares priced below the expected range at $17, fell as much as 4 percent in early trading but rose 4.4 percent to $17.75 in the afternoon. (Reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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