Summary: Stocks rally as Russia's Vladimir Putin scales back conflict with Ukraine; Wal-Mart is latest retailer to warn; Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway crosses $200,000 a share for first time. Conway G. Gittens reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes a softer stance towards Ukraine and the bulls on Wall Street stand firm. Gains were modest across the board with strength in utilities, health and consumer discretionary stocks leading the way. That rise in consumer stocks - strange given the news out of Wal-Mart. The discount giant did not see a rise in quarterly sales, but it did not see a fall either. Profits were in line with forecasts. But Wal-Mart cut its full-year outlook. It says it is spending more on employee health care and to boost web sales. Shares of Wal-Mart slightly higher on the day, but down so far this year. Trae Bodge of Retailmenot.com says the one thing post-recession shoppers have on their minds is: deals, deals, deals. SOUNDBITE: TRAE BODGE, SENIOR EDITOR, RETAILMENOT.COM (ENGLISH) SAYING: "Quite often as a habit, consumers will look for a promotion prior to shopping. And also what we find is consumers who are shopping and perhaps have a lot of merchandise in their shopping cart might look for a promotional code to see if one is available and then apply it to the shopping cart, but if they don't find a promotional code they may abandon that shopping cart." Restaurants - another consumer facing group having trouble. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers missing forecasts for the quarter and issuing disappointing same-store sales guidance for the full year. The CEO says higher marketing costs failed to bring in more customers. The stock having its worst one-day plunge since November 2006. Noodles, another fast-casual chain, losing almost one-fifth of its value after weak earnings and a weak outlook. A rise in weekly jobless claims adding little to the angst around the consumer. Even though first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected, the closely-watched four-week moving average staying near pre-recession lows. A milestone for Warren Buffett and his company Berkshire Hathaway. Shares of the conglomerate cracking the $200,000 mark for the first time. Buffett - the third richest person on the planet - overseeing the S&P 500's fourth most valuable company. Finishing up in Europe, the German economy shrank last quarter, joining weakness in France and other parts of the euro zone.....but stocks crept higher after those comments from Russia's Vladimir Putin.