Stocks posted solid gains Thursday as investors chose not worry about some so-so economic news.
The Dow Industrials added 21 points, but closed well off session highs. The S&P 500 gained six and the Nasdaq was up 23.
The nation's economy remains on a slow growth track. Revised GDP rose 2.4 percent in the first quarter, and initial jobless claims edged higher last week.
Investors also shook off another big sell-off in Japan: The Nikkei index tumbled five percent. Earlier this week it plunged seven percent.
The feeling on Wall Street is that economic numbers and trouble overseas will discourage the Fed from ending its bond-buying program any time soon. If that's the case, it will continue to provide enough fuel to keep the market going.
Financial, utility and technology stocks led today's advance. Many leading finance stocks are trading at or near their highest levels in more than a year. Goldman Sachs (GS) rose about $1.70, closing at a 52-week high. And utilities, which have fallen out of favor recently as bond yields rise, bounced back.
Nevada based NV Energy (NVE) jumped 22 percent after agreeing to be acquired by a unit of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A, BRK-B).
Clearwire (CLWR) soared 29 percent after Dish Network (DISH) raised its offer to acquire the company, which is the object of a bidding war. Sprint-Nextel (S) is also in the hunt. Both want Clearwater's 4G wireless spectrum.
There were some big tech and internet winners:
EMC (EMC) climbed five percent after the data storage company said it would begin paying a dividend this summer.
Facebook (FB) rose five percent on an analyst upgrade.
Priceline (PCLN) gained 15 points, or two percent. The online travel agency will issue $1 billion in debt, and buy back up to $1 billion in stock.
And First Solar (FSLR) remains red hot: It rose six percent as Goldman Sachs raised its rating and its price target. The solar panel manufacturer has soared nearly 80 percent this year.
–Produced by Drew Trachtenberg
CEOs' Handsome Paydays
Closing Bell: Investors Shrug Off Economic News; Finance, Tech Stocks Gain
It can't be said that there's no connection between performance and compensation; Blankfein's tenure at Goldman shows some correlation. In 2007, he took home a staggering $68.5 million -- the record for investment banker compensation. After the bailouts, Blankfein's pay dropped to $600,000 in 2008, and $1 million in 2009 (still a relative pittance). It rebounded in 2010, however, reaching $25.6 million, but fell back to around $12 million after Goldman's profits dropped in 2011. But the relationship between CEO quality and salary is not always clear: This year, Blankfein lead the way among big bank execs with $26 million, despite job and compensation cuts at Goldman.
In 2012, Dimon's pay was cut in half from the previous year, reflecting the $6.2 billion trading loss out of JPMorgan's London office (and a resultant Senate report saying the bank had mislead shareholders and regulators). He still got a healthy $11.5 million.
The founder and leader of Capitol One (COF) earned $17.5 million last year. Bloomberg considers him the most overpaid bank CEO.
No. 1 U.S. home lender Wells Fargo (WFC) had a banner year, banking a record $18.9 billion profit. Stumpf, who denies the existence of "a subsidy or unfair advantage from being perceived as too big to fail," took home $19.3 million. He currently chairs the Financial Services Roundtable, Wall Street's lobbying arm.
Outside the world of banks, the U.S. Justice Department on Friday announced its opposition to American Airlines' proposed $20 million severance for CEO Tom Horton. The carrier, owned by parent AMR Corp. (AAMRQ), is merging with US Airways Group (LCC); Horton became CEO when American filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November 2011. But even though American wants to give him all that cash, plus lifetime flight benefits, Horton won't actually be joining the ranks of the unemployed: The plan is to make him chairman of the combined company after the merger.
As the Associated Press explained, "Bankruptcy law limits severance payments to executives and aims to make sure companies can repay as much of their debt as possible." The government's objection observed that, according to previous filings by American, Horton would have received at most $6.4 million if he had left at the end of 2012. Why so much more money now? American's board should have to explain how the $20 million figure was determined, the trustee's office says. And guess who the chairman is: one Thomas W. Horton. Bankruptcy court will consider the question on June 4.