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Most stocks rise as investors weigh data after Obama speech

Most stocks rose Wednesday, sending the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to the highest level since October 2007, as investors weighed economic reports and President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.

General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) climbed 3.6 percent after agreeing to sell its remaining stake in NBC Universal to Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA) for $16.7 billion. Comcast, the largest U.S. cable company, jumped 3 percent. Retailers in the S&P 500 rose as a group after government data showed purchases increased in January for the third consecutive month. McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) lost 1.2 percent after Obama announced his plan to raise the minimum wage.

The S&P 500 advanced 0.1 percent to 1,520.33. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 35.79 points, or 0.3 percent, to 13,982.91. Four stocks gained for every three that fell on U.S. exchanges, with about 6 billion shares changing hands, 2.9 percent lower than the three-month average.

“I think the bias has been consistently green on the screen,” Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Philadelphia-based Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, which oversees $55 billion, said in a telephone interview. “We didn’t hear anything shockingly different from Obama’s speech that would have pulled investors’ enthusiasm for stocks out of the marketplace.”

Obama called for raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour and pledged to expand trade with Europe in the State of the Union speech late Tuesday. He also proposed spending $50 billion on “urgent” infrastructure projects. He lauded steps by companies such as Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT) and Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States.

Retailers gained 0.6 percent among 24 groups in the S&P 500. Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) added 4.7 percent to $186.27. Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) increased 4.2 percent to $269.47.

Six out of the 10 groups in the S&P 500 rose as industrial and raw-material shares gained at least 0.3 percent. The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, which measures the cost of using options as insurance against declines in the S&P 500, advanced 2.7 percent to 12.98.

U.S. Airways Group Inc. (NYSE: LCC) gained 2.7 percent to $14.66. The board is meeting to vote on an $11 billion merger after the two sides reached a tentative agreement that would create the world’s largest air carrier, people familiar with the matter said.

Lorillard Inc. (NYSE: LO) gained 4.9 percent to $41.68. The company posted quarterly earnings that exceeded analysts’ estimates for the first time in a year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The company boosted its dividend 6.5 percent to 55 cents a share.

Groupon Inc. (Nasdaq: GRPN) surged 5.4 percent to $5.58. A local e- commerce marketplace Groupon began a few months ago in Chicago and New York will boost revenue as it expands nationwide over the coming quarters, according to Arvind Bhatia, an analyst at Sterne Agee & Leach Inc., who raised the online coupon provider to buy from neutral.

The KBW Bank Index, made up of 24 U.S. lenders, lost 0.6 percent. Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) fell 0.8 percent to $44, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) dropped 0.9 percent to $48.68 and Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) declined 0.6 percent to $12.17. A Sheldon H. Solow-led New York realty company sued the three banks and several others for allegedly conspiring to manipulate the U.S. dollar Libor rate.

Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. (NYSE: CLF) tumbled 20 percent to $29.29. The iron-ore producer cut its quarterly dividend by 76 percent after the price of the commodity declined and a Canadian mining project was delayed.

WellPoint Inc. (NYSE: WLP) fell 4.6 percent to $63. The health insurer named Joseph Swedish, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Catholic hospital system Trinity Health Corp., as its next leader after a six-month search.

Dean Foods Co. (NYSE: DF) slipped 9.2 percent to $16.70. The dairy processor said total volume will decline in a percentage of “low single digits” this year.

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