US stocks posted modest losses on Wednesday as investors digested a mix of economic reports and testimony from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke in which he indicated that the central bank is not leaning toward further stimulus action to boost the economy. Bernanke's testimony sparked a surge in the yields of Treasury bonds, with the yield on the 10-year note rising from 1.94 percent to 2 percent just minutes after his testimony began.
Interpol announced on Wednesday it has arrested 25 suspected members of the loosely-knit collection of computer hackers known as Anonymous. The arrests were made, according to a statement from the international police agency, in a massive sweep conducted across Europe and South America. The suspects are between the ages of 17 and 40, and are suspected of plotting a cyber-attack against a number of state agencies in Colombia, Chile and Spain.
Shares of First Solar Inc. fell more than 12 percent on Wednesday, making it the worst performer on the S&P 500 after the company lowered its forecast for 2012 revenue and missed Wall Street estimates with its fourth-quarter earnings report. Citing higher manufacturing costs and a decline in third-party solar module sales, the company said it expects revenue this year to be in a range of $3.5 billion to $3.8 billion, down from a previously forecast range of $3.7 billion to $4 billion.
Several major US airlines raised their fares last week, the third fare increase this year, with United and Continental Airlines upping round-trip fares by $4 to $10 apiece. So far, the increase has been matched by Virgin America, Delta, and US Airways, but Southwest and JetBlue Airways have held off. Delta Airlines actually initiated what would have been a fourth fare increase last month, but rescinded the action when other airlines did not match the increase.
The Mortgage Bankers Association reported on Wednesday that applications for US home loans fell slightly last week as interest rates remained near record lows. The group's seasonally adjusted index of mortgage application activity, which tallies requests for purchase loans and refinancings, fell 0.3 percent in the week ended February 24th, despite an increase in demand for purchase loans.
Apple's market capitalization surpassed the $500 billion mark in early trading on Wednesday, extending the tech giant's lead over Exxon in terms of world's most valuable company. Apple also becomes just the fifth company in history with a half-trillion dollar valuation, as only Microsoft, Cisco Sytems, Exxon and General Electric have ever reached the lofty valuation. The feat was achieved most recently by Exxon, who surpassed the mark in late 2007 when oil prices were spiking. Microsoft, GE and Cisco, meanwhile, achieved the feat during the tech bubble in 1999.
Wall Street bonuses declined by 14 percent in 2011, according to a report issued Wednesday by New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Financial sector employees took home an average cash bonus of $121,150 last year, the report showed, and the sector lost 4,300 jobs between April and December. DiNapoli said in a statement that the decline in bonuses reflect a difficult year for the industry, which has struggled since the onset of the financial crisis as investment has dwindled to a fraction of what it was in the years leading up to it.
Staples Inc issued its fourth-quarter results Wednesday, posting a surge in profit despite weakness in its international business. The company also forecast lower-than-expected sales for the current fiscal year as the ongoing European debt crisis continues to affect its sales abroad, sending its shares down more than 8 percent in early trading. The largest US office supply retailer noted that its revenue outside the US was down 5 percent in the final three months of 2011, a challenge that is expected to continue for much of this year, at least.
Costco Wholesale Corp issued its fiscal second-quarter results Wednesday, posting stronger-than-expected profits as its low pricing strategy continued to lure in budget-conscious shoppers. The wholesale club said that net income from stores open at least a year rose 13 percent as revenue from those stores rose 8 percent. Excluding figures from higher gas prices and the negative impact of currency exchange rates on international sales, revenue at stores open a year or more still increased 7 percent.
The US Commerce Department reported Wednesday that the economy grew faster than originally though in the fourth quarter as the agency revised its estimate of gross domestic product growth during the period. According to the report, GDP expanded at a 3 percent clip in the final three months of 2011, the fastest pace since the second quarter of 2010, and up from the original Commerce Dept. estimate of 2.8 percent. The revision included upward figures for nearly all components of GDP.