Growing optimism fuels modest market gains
By Lisa Singha
NEW YORK Wall Street ended a big week on a quiet but encouraging note yesterday, as modest stock gains lifted the Nasdaq composite index to its first five-session winning streak in seven months and biggest weekly gain in more than a year.
The Dow Jones industrials also returned to levels not seen in more than a month, despite choppy trading that caused the major indexes to fluctuate for most of the session. Analysts said the market's ability to hold steady, rather than fall sharply on profit taking or fears that the week's big advance would fizzle, suggests investor confidence is slowly recovering.
"This is a good way to end the week," said Rafael Tamargo, director of equity research at Wilmington Trust. "We've hung on to most of the gains and the market's overall tone is better and the news appears to be improving. I do think there is a base here for us to build on. But is it a straight shot up? Absolutely not."
The Dow closed up 63.87, or 0.6 percent, at 10,353.08. The gauge, which enjoyed two triple-digit advances earlier this week, had its highest finish since April 10, when it stood at 10,381.73.
Broader stock indicators also moved higher. The tech-focused Nasdaq composite index gained 10.95, or 0.6 percent, to 1,741.39. Its last five-session gain was in early October.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index advanced 8.36, or 0.8 percent, to 1,106.59.
The index's weekly performances were also solid. The Dow gained 4.2 percent, the Nasdaq rose 8.8 percent and the S&P climbed 4.9 percent. The Nasdaq's gain was its biggest since the week ended April 20, 2001, when it surged 10.3 percent.
Trading yesterday was mostly lackluster. Although the market got an upbeat outlook from Dell Computer and encouraging consumer sentiment numbers, investors appeared to be taking a break a normal occurrence, analysts said, following four days of mostly positive momentum.
Dell rose 9 cents to $27.94 on earnings that beat expectations despite a slight drop in first-quarter profits. The company also raised its forecast for second-quarter profits.
Other tech stocks were mixed. Microsoft rose 29 cents to $56.03, while Intel rose 43 cents to $31.20.
Wall Street was pleased with, but not inspired by, a University of Michigan report on consumer sentiment. The school's index rose to 96.0 in mid-May from 93.0 in mid-April, Dow Jones News reported. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the economy, so any improvement in consumer sentiment is considered good for business.
Among blue chips, Schering-Plough rose $1.37 to $26.12 after announcing it would pay the federal government $500 million to settle quality control issues at two manufacturing plants. The stock had fallen sharply earlier in the week on reports of criminal investigation by the government, which has yet to be resolved. Schering-Plough also reduced its 2002 forecast, citing the cost of the deal.
But retailer Gap dropped 59 cents to $16.30 on first-quarter earnings that beat expectations but still showed weak sales.
Also yesterday, the Commerce Department reported that the sale of American goods overseas grew at a slightly faster rate than imports in March. The trade deficit fell to $31.6 billion, 0.4 percent better than the February gap.
Despite the market's strength this week, analysts are cautious. They note that Wall Street has had a recent history of rallying unsustainably as investors lose confidence that business is improving. They also say that much of this week's buying came in stocks that had fallen sharply in previous weeks on disappointing earnings.
"The tone of the market in the last week or so has changed. We're getting better earnings reports from important companies. There is the potential to move higher, but it's going to happen slowly," said Mike Kayes, chief investment officer at Eastover Capital.
Advancing issues led decliners on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated volume came to 1.524 billion shares, compared with 1.521 billion Thursday.
The Russell 2000 index rose 1.54, or 0.3 percent, to 508.94.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.9 percent. In Europe, Germany's DAX index fell 0.2 percent, Britain's FTSE 100 lost 0.6 percent, and France's CAC-40 dropped 0.5 percent.