COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

Stocks rise on speculation of easing Ukraine tension

Easing of tensions between Ukraine and Russia helped move stock prices higher Thursday.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 61.78 points to 16,713.58. The Nasdaq composite index rose 18.88 points to 4453.00 and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 8.46 points to 1,955.18, a two-week high.

Shares of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK), the investment fund headed by Warren Buffett, rose to $202,850, an all-time high. The shares rose $3,241 in Thursday trading after reporting positive quarterly results.

Oil dropped to its lowest level in seven months on news of rising reserves. Crude closed at $95.58 a barrel, down $2.01. Gold was up $1.20 to $1,315.70 an ounce.

Kohl’s Corp. (NYSE: KSS) added 3.3 percent to a four-month high after quarterly results beat estimates. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) gained 0.5 percent after reporting stagnant same-store sales and lowering its profit forecast, while Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) declined 2.6 percent after forecasting little to no sales growth.

About 4.8 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, the slowest day since July 3.

Equity futures and European stocks erased earlier losses after President Vladimir Putin said Russia will do everything it can to stop the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Stocks had slumped after data showed the euro area’s recovery unexpectedly stalled in the second quarter after its three biggest economies

Prospects of the euro-region’s economy slipping back into recession have fueled speculation the European Central Bank may boost stimulus measures, while U.S. economic strength has created concern that the Federal Reserve may be forced to act on rates sooner than anticipated.

The U.S. central bank remains on pace to wind down its monthly bond purchases in October. Fed Chair Janet Yellen has said officials will keep the benchmark rate low for a “considerable time” after the bond buying ends.

The S&P 500 reached a record on July 24 before sliding as much as 3.9 percent as President Barack Obama authorized airstrikes against militants in Iraq and concern grew that fighting in Ukraine would disrupt world trade. The gauge closed 1.7 percent below its all-time high.

Home Depot Inc. (NYSE: HD) to Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) and Gap Inc. (NYSE: GPS) are among retailers in the S&P 500 that report earnings in the next week.

Wal-Mart gained 0.5 percent to $74.39. The world’s largest retailer said sales at stores open at least a year were stagnant in the last quarter. The company cut its 2014 profit forecast because of higher health care costs and slow traffic at its supercenters.

Kohl’s advanced 3.3 percent to $56.91, the highest since April. The department-store chain posted second-quarter profit of $1.13 per share, more than the $1.07 projected by analysts.

Cisco slipped 2.6 percent to $24.54 for the biggest drop in the Dow. The world’s largest networking-equipment maker forecast adjusted earnings of 51 cents to 53 cents a share, compared with the 53 cent average analyst projection. Cisco will also take a charge of as much as $700 million to cut 6,000 jobs.

About 75 percent of the S&P 500-listed companies that have posted results this season have beaten analysts’ estimates, while 65 percent have exceeded sales projections, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Profit for members of the equity benchmark probably climbed 9.7 percent in the second quarter, while sales increased 4.3 percent, according to analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

The S&P 500 trades at 16.3 times the projected earnings of its members, down from a multiple of 16.7 in July.

The equities benchmark has been trading below its 50-day moving average of 1,956.8 for the past 11 periods. Since early 2013, it has dipped below that measure while remaining above its 200-day average on six occasions, Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank Wealth Management, which oversees $124 billion, said in a note to clients.

Each time, the gauge rebounded to continue its upward ascent, Sandven wrote.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, which usually moves in the opposite direction to the S&P 500, slid 3.7 percent to 12.42 Thursday in its fifth day of declines, the longest losing streak since May. The gauge has lost 25 percent during the slump.

Nine of the 10 main S&P 500 groups advanced Thursday, with health care and utilities stocks rising at least 0.9 percent for the best performances.

Perrigo Co. (PRGO), a maker of generic drugs, added 7.3 percent for the biggest advance in the S&P 500 after it reported adjusted fourth-quarter earnings that topped estimates.

Avago Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: AVGO) jumped 2.6 percent to $73.84. The company agreed to sell its Axxia networking business to Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) for $650 million.

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