Stocks off to strong 2013 start

If only the rest of the year on Wall Street could be as good as the first week. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq are up 4.5 percent since January 1. The S&P 500 index is at the highest level in five years. But this week’s stock action may be a lot more volatile as Wall Street’s attention shifts away from Congress to the fundamentals of corporate profits. The fourth-quarter earnings season begins tomorrow with Alcoa’s earnings. The previous quarter’s results were disappointing for most large corporations and this season is not expected to be much better.

Motorists can expect bad news when the US Energy Department releases its weekly gas price report today. The national average is creeping up after falling to a one-year low in mid-December. Analysts expect the trend to continue in the coming months. Crude oil futures are up about $10 in the past month.

The Hostess bake sale continues. Hostess Brands – the bankrupt maker of Twinkies and Wonderbread – is said to be in talks with two big companies about selling off pieces of the firm. The Wall Street Journal says Grupo Bimbo and Flowers Foods are negotiating to buy assets including the firm’s bread business. Cake brands may be sold off later this year. Hostess announced in November that it was shutting down its business and selling off its brands and bakery plants.

A big break for global banks. International regulators have decided to slow down the phase-in of new rules meant to ensure banks have enough cash on hand to survive a future financial crisis. The liquidity rules requirement will take effect four years later than originally planned. European banking stocks surged this morning. Shares of several big Italian and Spanish banks rose more than 4 percent. Banks had warned the new rules would sharply reduce their profit margins.

Richard Davies, Business Correspondent, ABC NEWS Radio, ABCNews.com, twitter.com/daviesabc