Stocks Started Higher Ahead of Economic Data

U.S. stocks edged higher in early trding on Friday just ahead of economic reports on the housing market and consumer sentiment. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lately climbed 6.96 points to 12,991.65. The S&P 500 Index rose 2.49 points to 1,365.95. The Nasdaq Composite added 6.16 points to 2,963.14.

Ford Motor (NYSE:F) is on track to double the number of dealerships in China by 2015, its country chief said on Friday, as it launches a half-billion-dollar plant and races to narrow the gap with foreign rivals in the world’s largest auto market.

A Chinese firm trying to stop Apple Inc from using the iPad name in China has launched an attack on the consumer electronics giant’s home turf, filing a lawsuit in California that accuses it of employing deception when it bought the trademark.

Edward Lampert, the hedge fund manager who controls Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD), has more than $160 million in paper profits on shares of the retailer acquired last month from a long-standing client, the Ziff family.

Gap Inc. reported a 40 percent drop in fourth-quarter profit as the clothing retailer wrestled with higher costs and had to discount heavily to attract shoppers during the crucial holiday season. It earned $218 million, or 44 cents per share, in the three months ended Jan. 28. That compares with $365 million, or 60 cents per share, in the same period last year.

Bank of America said Thursday that it would no longer sell new mortgages to Fannie Mae, underscoring tensions in a fight between giants of the home loan market over billions in losses in the housing bubble.

Crude-oil futures gained further ground Friday, a day after setting nine-month closing highs amid ongoing worries over Iran. Light, sweet crude-oil futures for delivery in April (NMN:CLJ2) rose 43 cents, or 0.4%, to $108.71 a barrel on Friday.

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