Stocks Opened Up on GDP Data

U.S. stocks started modestly ahead on Wednesday after the U.S. economy grew more than expected. The Dow Jones industrial average lately gained 37.46 points, or 0.29 percent, at 13,042.58. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index added 4.65  points, or 0.34 percent, at 1,376.83. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 9.72 points, or 0.33 percent, at 2,996.48.

Economic growth was stronger than originally thought at the end of 2011 as consumers increased their spending and businesses stocked up their inventories. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation’s economy, grew at a 3% annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2011, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

Applications for home mortgage purchases jumped last week as interest rates dipped, though demand for refinancing waned, an industry group said on Wednesday. The Mortgage Bankers Association said its seasonally adjusted index of mortgage application activity, which includes both refinancing and home purchase demand, dipped 0.3 percent in the week ended Feb 24.

Oil prices rose slightly to near $107 a barrel on Wednesday, amid mixed signs about the strength of U.S. crude demand. By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark oil for April delivery was up 34 cents to $106.89 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

European banks grabbed a larger-than-expected 529.5 billion euros ($713.4 billion) in cheap loans Wednesday, in the European Central Bank’s second and possibly last long-term refinancing operation. The ECB said a total of 800 banks were allotted funds under the latest three-year LTRO.

Greece’s largest unions are planning protests and a work stoppage Wednesday, as the crisis-hit country’s coalition government presses ahead with wage cuts and other austerity measures.

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