S&P, Nasdaq rise, but debt worries limit gains

 @ibtimes
on February 08 2010 12:24 PM

U.S. stocks edged higher on Monday as several bellwether shares rose on brokerage upgrades and comments about improving economic conditions, though persistent worries about euro zone sovereign debt problems limited gains.

Worries about Greece's financial problems and their potential to spread to other euro zone countries or beyond has dragged Wall Street lower about 7 percent since mid-January.

Dow components Home Depot Inc , Walt Disney Co and Exxon Mobil Corp gained from analyst upgrades, though the index drifted 0.1 percent lower.

In its upgrade of Home Depot, Morgan Stanley said it was optimistic about the home improvement chain's prospects as the housing market begins to recover.

JPMorgan cited improving economic conditions in its upgrade of Disney, but said the company's earnings recovery would lag its peer group.

Over the weekend, European finance ministers tried to assure their counterparts in the Group of Seven industrialized nations that the euro zone's debt crisis is under control. They said they would make sure that Greece sticks with its budget-cutting plans.

The good news we're getting from upgrades and positive earnings are helping us, but there's the fear that Greece's problems could be the tip of the iceberg in terms of overall European debt, said Tom Nyheim, vice president at Christiana Bank & Trust in Greenville, Delaware.

Financial stocks came under pressure. JPMorgan Chase & Co fell 1.1 percent to $37.81 and was one of the Dow's top drags, while Exxon and Home Depot were the two top boosts. Walt Disney was up 0.9 percent to $29.80, Exxon rose 1.1 percent to $65.07, and Home Depot climbed 3.1 percent to $28.84.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> fell 10 points, or 0.1 percent, to 10,002.16. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> gained 4.12 points, or 0.39 percent, to 1,070.37. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 8.66 points, or 0.41 percent, to 2,149.92.

Lifting the Nasdaq was Amazon.com Inc , which Collins Stewart upgraded to buy on a recent decline in the shares. The stock rose 1.5 percent to $119.18.

Other gainers included Hasbro Inc and CVS Caremark Corp rallied after reporting better-than-expected fourth-quarter results.

Hasbro also said it expects its revenue and profit to rise in 2010, sending its shares up 14 percent to $35.07. CVS rose 6 percent at $32.93.

On the downside, Nasdaq OMX Group Inc fell 2.7 percent to $18.30 after it reported fourth-quarter earnings and sales that fell from the prior year.

(Editing by Padraic Cassidy)

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