U.S. stocks gained in morning trading Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumping more than 100 points, as investors await speeches from two Federal Reserve officials that could shed more light on the timing of the central bank’s interest rate hikes. The Nasdaq composite also rose to over 5,000 for the third time this month, a level not seen since 2000 during the dot-com bubble.
The tech-heavy index is within spitting distance of its all-time closing high of 5,048.62, set on March 10, 2000.
In morning trading Friday, the Dow (INDEXDJX:.DJI), which measures the share prices of 30 large industrial companies, leaped 104.36 points, or 0.58 percent, to 18,063.39. The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index (INDEXNASDAQ:.IXIC) added 12.43 points, or 0.59 percent, to 2,101.57. The Nasdaq composite (INDEXSP:.INX) gained 37.99 points, or 0.76 percent, to 5,039.65.
Charles Evans, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, are scheduled to speak Friday, the first Fed officials to give public comments following the central bank's meeting earlier this week. Market professionals are awaiting their comments to see if they will reveal more clues as to the timing of the Fed’s interest rate increases. Both officials are voting members this year on the Federal Open Market Committee, the central bank's board that determines the direction of monetary policy.
Lockhart will give a speech on monetary policy during the Georgia Law Review Symposium in Athens, Georgia, at 10:15 a.m. EDT, while Evans is scheduled to speak at 11:30 a.m. EDT on risk management at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
Shares of Tiffany & Co. (NYSE:TIF) dropped more than 3 percent to $83.67 in morning trading Friday after the upscale jeweler posted a 1 percent drop in quarterly sales, its first drop in five years due to a stronger U.S. dollar. The New York-based company reported fourth quarter net income of $196.2 million, or $1.51 per share, on revenue of $1.29 billion. Meanwhile, shares of Darden Restaurants Inc. (NYSE:DRI) rose more than 2 percent Friday to $66.34 after sales increased 7 percent last quarter, driven by higher sales at its Olive Garden restaurant. For the company’s fiscal third quarter ended Feb. 22, net income rose to $133.8 million, or $1.05 per share, on revenue of $1.73 billion.
Oil prices Friday were heavily influenced by a slight dip in the U.S. dollar. West Texas Intermediate crude, the benchmark for U.S. oil prices, rose 1.64 percent to $44.68 a barrel, for April 15 delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the benchmark for global oil prices, edged down 0.50 percent $54.46 a barrel, for May 15 delivery on the London ICE Futures Exchange.