Stocks Surge After Hints of Stability

Wall Street is seeing an economic glass that's half-full — again.

Investors poured money into consumer product and financial companies Wednesday as they saw new signals that the recession could be easing its chokehold on the economy.

Stocks jumped in the last hour of trading after the Federal Reserve released a report showing glimmers of hope in U.S. business conditions. The market had drifted for much of the day on poor readings on industrial production and consumer prices. The Dow Jones industrial average ended with a gain of 109 points.

The late-day turnaround was typical of a market that has looked for reasons to push higher on hopes for a recovery ever since stocks skidded to 12-year lows in early March. A powerful five-week rally since then has pushed the market up more than 20 percent.

Technology stocks lagged after Intel Corp.'s tightlipped forecast caused jitters about a corner of the market that had drawn buyers over the past month, but the tech-focused Nasdaq composite index managed a slender advance.

Money flowed into stocks like Procter & Gamble Co., which boosted its dividend, and American Express Co., which said credit card defaults might be stabilizing. Stocks in hard-hit parts of the market like airlines and home builders bounded higher as investors bet the economy might be finding its footing.

"The market may not be seeing concrete signs of a recovery, but there are specks of light that we're on the road to stabilization," said Ryan Larson, senior equity trader at Voyageur Asset Management.

The last-hour surged pushed the Dow up 109.44, or 1.4 percent, to 8,029.62.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 10.56, or 1.3 percent, to 852.06, and the Nasdaq edged up 1.08, or 0.1 percent, to 1,626.80.

The Russell 2000 index rose 7.91, or 1.8 percent, to 461.13.

An increasing stream of quarterly results from companies is likely to add to the market's fractiousness as corporate earnings season gets under way this week. Reports due Thursday from JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Google Inc. could reshape how investors feel about the financial and technology industries. Figures are also due on home construction and unemployment claims.

Traders eventually looked past some of the economic readings that came out early in the day. The government reported that production at factories, mines and utilities fell 1.5 percent in March, the fifth straight month of decline and worse than the 1 percent dip analysts expected.

Consumer prices fell 0.1 percent last month as energy prices dropped. Analysts had expected a slight increase.

Later reports revived investors' optimism. The Fed's snapshot of business conditions around the nation suggested that a slide in areas like manufacturing could be slowing. And the National Association of Home Builders said its housing market index posted its biggest one-month gain in five years in April as many homebuyers jumped on lower prices and incentives.

American Airlines parent AMR Corp. jumped 19 percent in afternoon trading after the carrier posted a $375 million loss for the first quarter that wasn't as bad as analysts had feared.

American Express said credit card defaults might be stabilizing. A 12 percent rally in the stock helped lift financial shares and gave AmEx the biggest advance among the 30 stocks that make up the Dow industrials. Some buying likely occurred as traders rushed to cover misplaced bets that predicted financial stocks would fall.

More than two stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.5 billion shares.

Trading volume was light, which can amplify swings in the market, and some buyers may have been ready to pounce following a 2 percent slump a day earlier.

David Kelly, chief market strategist at JPMorgan Funds, said it could take months for investors to get a better sense of whether the economy has managed to break its slide.

"It's like April weather," he said. "Some days it will seem an awful lot like winter and other days it will feel like spring."

Consumer staples stocks — considered a refuge during recessions — posted some of the biggest gains. Procter & Gamble, the maker of Tide detergent and Crest toothpaste, rose 3.2 percent after boosting its quarterly dividend by 10 percent, to 4 cents.

Intel's earnings came in well ahead of expectations and the company said personal computer sales have "bottomed out," but investors were unnerved by Intel's decision not to provide a detailed revenue forecast. The stock fell 2.4 percent.

"We're going to continue to get bad news," said David Hefty, chief executive of Cornerstone Wealth Management in Auburn, Ind.

Bond prices rose, pushing the yield on the 10-year Treasury note down to 2.77 percent from 2.79 percent late Tuesday.

The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

Overseas, Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.5 percent, Germany's DAX index lost 0.2 percent, and France's CAC-40 fell 0.5 percent. Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 1.1 percent.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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