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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 12:24 p.m., Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Bank profits lift stocks to 22-month highs

Hawai'i Stocks
Updated Market Chart

By Meg Richards
Associated Press

NEW YORK — Strong bank earnings pushed the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index to new 22-month highs today, but technology stocks lagged on disappointing news from Lucent Technologies and Motorola.

With little market-moving news coming out of President Bush’s State of the Union address last night, analysts attributed the gains to upbeat quarterly profit reports, led by J.P. Morgan Chase. Six weeks of advances in tech and telecommunications stocks prompted many investors to collect profits in those sectors.

The run-up in anticipation of good earnings reports has excited investors, but some are skeptical about whether the outlook for 2004 is robust enough to justify valuations, especially for tech stocks, said John Caldwell, chief investment strategist for McDonald Financial Group, part of Cleveland-based KeyCorp.

"Folks are getting away from their infatuation with tech stocks," Caldwell said. "They’re looking more toward companies like J.P. Morgan & Chase. And why not? Not only did they just announce a big merger, but their earnings were substantially better than anticipated."

According to preliminary results, the Dow rose 94.96, or 0.9 percent, to close at 10,623.62. It was the highest close for the index of 30 actively traded industrial stocks since March 19, 2002, when it ended the day at 10,635.25.

The broader gauges were mixed. The Nasdaq composite index was down 5.53, or 0.3 percent, at 2,142.45. The S&P 500 gained 8.85, or 0.8 percent, to 1,147.62 — its highest close since March 22, 2002, when it finished at 1,148.70.

Much of the advance came late in the day. Earlier, earnings reports appeared to be motivating some investors to sell, said Todd Clark, head of listed equity trading at Wells Fargo Securities.

Overall, fourth-quarter earnings are expected to rise 20 percent, but that may not be enough to match investors’ heightened expectations. Still, most analysts remain bullish about equities over the long term.

Also today, the Commerce Department reported a 1.7 percent increase in housing construction in December, making 2003 the best year for home builders in 25 years. The reading beat the estimates of analysts, who had forecast a 6 percent decline.

Strength in the housing market, fueled by low interest rates, has been a key support of the economic recovery. Analysts believe it will slow down somewhat this year.

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. gained $1.01 to close at $40.10 after reporting profits of $1.86 billion, well above Wall Street’s estimates. Like other major banks reporting results in recent days, J.P. Morgan’s profits were boosted by improvements in both corporate and consumer credit as well as the rebounding stock market.

Decliners included telecommunications manufacturer Lucent Technologies, which lost 33 cents to close at $4.42 after it reported profit results that beat expectations, but forecast future earnings to be flat to only slightly higher.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners more than 3 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was at 1.76 billion, compared to 1.71 billion yesterday.