Wall Street edges higher, biotechs lift Nasdaq

Thu Apr 19, 2012 11:03am EDT
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By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks rose slightly in a choppy session on Thursday as investors grappled with euro zone uncertainty, a raft of corporate earnings and economic data that painted a mixed picture of the domestic recovery.

Spain's successful debt auction and solid earnings from Bank of America and Morgan Stanley led to early optimism, but that quickly dissipated as speculation swirled that France's sovereign debt rating could be downgraded. A senior French source told Reuters the rumors were unfounded.

Citi analysts said in a note it is likely Moody's will place France's Aaa rating on review for possible downgrade by the autumn. France lost its 'AAA' rating earlier in the year and ongoing budget crises have kept worries about the region near the front burner for investors.

The FTSEurofirst 300 .FTEU3 index of top European shares fell from earlier highs and traded near flat.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was up 34.62 points, or 0.27 percent, at 13,067.37. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX was up 3.68 points, or 0.27 percent, at 1,388.82. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC was up 20.59 points, or 0.68 percent, at 3,052.04.

Spain, the latest trouble spot in the euro zone debt crisis, sold 2.5 billion euros ($3.3 billion) of bonds in a successful auction, but yields rose as Madrid struggled to tame its deficit.

"The ECB's efforts to pump liquidity into the system has taken fears of a banking crisis off the table, but all the problems are still there for all these countries," said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida.

"For U.S. investors, it's just going to be simmering on the back burner, maybe it comes to the front burner, and back and forth. It's still going to be a major issue and is not going to go away anytime soon."   Continued...

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, April 18, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid