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Wall Street looks to return to 'normalcy'

By Ken Sweet

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 17 2013 10:46 a.m. MDT

NEW YORK — Stocks were mostly higher Thursday as investors got back to focusing on corporate earnings and economic data.

It's a change of pace for Wall Street, which had been completely focused on the Washington's political drama over the last month. Now that the U.S. has avoided the possibility of default, at least for a few months, traders are returning to a state of normalcy.

"I don't think we can completely close the door on the debt ceiling chapter just yet, but we can get back to the stuff that really matters," said Jonathan Corpina, who manages trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for Meridian Equity Partners.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up five points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,726 at 12 p.m. Eastern. If it closes at that level it would beat its all-time high of 1,725 set on Sept. 18 by a point.

The Nasdaq composite added 12 points, or 0.3 percent, to 3,851.

The two indexes were faring far better than the Dow Jones industrial average, which has just 30 stocks. The Dow was down 48 points, or 0.3 percent, at 15,325.

IBM was the biggest decliner on the Dow, falling $10.80, or 5.8 percent, to $176.00. The technology giant said Wednesday that its third-quarter net income rose 6 percent, but revenue fell and missed Wall Street's forecast by more than $1 billion.

Goldman Sachs also weighed down the index. The investment bank's revenue fell sharply as trading in bonds and other securities slowed. Goldman fell $4.07, or 3 percent, $158.10.

Now that there was no longer an immediate fear that the United States could default on its debt and the government was reopening, Wall Street was surveying the damage.

Market analysts expect the 16-day partial shutdown of the government caused billions of dollars of damage to the U.S. economy through furloughed government employees, delayed government contracts, and declines in tourism at national parks. Analysts at Wells Fargo said the shutdown likely cut 0.5 percentage points off of U.S. economic growth.

Investors are still concerned that the two parties won't be able to reach a longer-term budget agreement. The deal approved late Wednesday only permits the Treasury Department to borrow through Feb. 7 and fund the government through Jan. 15.

"The agreement represents another temporary fix that pushes fiscal uncertainty into the early months of next year," Wells Fargo analysts said.

Despite worries about the damage the debt ceiling and government shutdown did to the economy, there were signs that normalcy was returning to financial markets.

Stresses in the bond market were easing. The one-month Treasury bill was back to trading at a yield of 0.01 percent, about where it was a month ago, and down sharply from 0.35 percent on Tuesday.

Usually a staid, conservative security, the one-month T-bill was subjected to a wave of selling at the beginning of the month. Investors feared the T-bill would be the first piece of government debt to be affected by a U.S. default if the debt ceiling were breached and the federal government could no longer pay its obligations.

The yield on the more closely-watched 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.60 percent from 2.67 percent Wednesday.

In other corporate news:

— Verizon, one of the stocks in the Dow average, rose $1.86, or 4 percent, to $49.11. The telecommunications company said it earned an adjusted 77 cents per share for the recent quarter. Analysts polled by FactSet expected earnings of 74 cents per share.

— UnitedHealth Group was down $2.98, or 4 percent, to $72.22. The health insurance giant narrowed its 2013 profit forecast, instead of raising it, giving some analysts pause.

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