Stocks end the first half with a bang

By Hibah YousufJune 30, 2011: 4:38 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Stocks ended the first half of the year solidly higher Thursday, as investors put a turbulent six months behind them.

All three major indexes rallied for the fourth day in a row, helped by a strong economic report on business activity in the Midwest and the latest positive developments out of Greece.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) added 153 points, or 1.3%, led by Intel (INTC, Fortune 500), Caterpillar (CAT, Fortune 500) and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ, Fortune 500). Shares of all three companies rose about 3%.

The S&P 500 (SPX) rose 13 points, or 1%, and the Nasdaq composite (COMP) gained 33 points, or 1.2%. First Solar (FSLR) and eBay (EBAY, Fortune 500) were among the best performing stocks on both indexes.

All three major indexes reached the mid-year mark on a high note. The Dow is up more than 7% while the S&P and Nasdaq are up 5%.
Meanwhile, Wall Street's most widely cited measure of volatility and fear, the VIX (VIX), has dropped nearly 7% during the first six months of the year.

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The second quarter has been difficult, however. Stocks struggled over the past two months amid jitters about Europe's sovereign debt problems and an economic slowdown in the United States.

The Dow ended the quarter up 0.8%, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq finished about 0.3% lower. That quarterly performance was the worst in a year for all three indexes.

Economy: The Chicago purchasing managers index, which measures business activity in the Midwest, jumped to 61.1 in June from 56.6 the prior month. Economists were expecting the measure to slip to 54.

"Based on the series of poor economic reports we've had the last several weeks, expectations were low, so this was a nice surprise," said Joseph Saluzzi, co-head of equity trading at Themis Trading.

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Strong regional data is especially welcome news ahead of the national Institute for Supply Management manufacturing index due Friday, but it's only one data point, Saluzzi cautioned.

Adding to the welcome news, Greece voted in favor of implementing the austerity measures approved on Wednesday. The measures aim to keep the debt-ridden country from defaulting.

But as anti-government protests grow worse, some investors worry that Greece's problems are far from over.

"There's still a lot to sort out with Greece and we're not out of the woods yet," Saluzzi said. "There are a lot of major global economic concerns, and I think markets will be choppy for the rest of the summer."

The Labor Department reported that weekly jobless claims edged down slightly in the latest week, but fell short of economists' expectations for a bigger drop.

Currencies and commodities: The dollar fell against the euro, the British pound and the Japanese yen.

Oil for August delivery rose 65 cents to settle at $95.42 a barrel.

Gold futures for August delivery slipped $7.60 to settle at $1,502.80 an ounce.

10-year yield at one-month high

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury edged down, pushing the yield up to 3.16% from 3.11% late Wednesday.

Companies: Shares of eBay (EBAY, Fortune 500), which owns PayPal, jumped more than 4% a day after the Federal Reserve imposed caps on debit card swipe fees that weren't as high as expected.

Shares of the First Solar (FSLR) gained more than 2%, after the company won $4.5 billion in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy.

World markets: European stocks ended higher. Britain's FTSE 100 gained 1.5%, the DAX in Germany added 1.1% and France's CAC 40 rose 1.5%.

Asian markets also ended the session higher. The Shanghai Composite jumped 1.2%, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong gained 1.5% and Japan's Nikkei rose 0.2%. ... gletoolbar