Markets & Finance

Stocks Rally


Stocks trucked higher on Thursday to finish with solid gains. The tech-heavy Nasdaq index gained more than 3% as Wall Street rebounded from a losing streak thanks to upbeat corporate news and positive economic data.

The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 170.59 points, or 1.70%, at 10,218.82, snapping a five-session losing streak that drove the blue chips to their lowest level in 2004. The broader Standard & Poor's 500-stock index added 17.95 points, or 1.64%, to 1,109.28. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index raced up 57.69 points, or 3.02%, to 1,967.17. Nearly 1.5 billion shares changed hands on the Big Board while volume on the Nasdaq was more than 1.9 billion.

Investors will get another dose of economic data to consider on Friday. Topping the list will be a reading on consumer sentiment in March. The University of Michigan sentiment gauge is expected to tick down to 94 from 94.1 in the previous month.

Meantime, personal income is expected to show an increase of 0.3% in February vs. a 0.2% rise in the previous month, according to Informa Global Markets.

Friday's earnings calendar is light. Satellite TV outfit EchoStar Communications (DISH) is set to report. Mushroom grower Sylvan (SYLN) will also bring its quarterly results to light.

On Thursday, the Commerce Department reported that gross domestic product rose at a 4.1% annual rate in the fourth quarter, which was in line with estimates. The rate was a sharp decline, however, from the 8.2% annual rate of growth logged in the third quarter of 2003.

On the jobs front, first-time unemployment claims rose by 1,000 to 339,000 in the week ended March 20 from 338,000 in the prior week. According to economic research group Informa Global Markets, the claims data were better than expected and support the view that at least the pace of layoffs continues to decline while net job growth improves although not at a pace that is consistent with past strong recovery periods.

In stocks news, Micron Technology (MU), the world's second-largest maker of computer memory chips, reported a narrower-than-expected quarterly loss.

Electronics retailer Sharper Image (SHRP) posted a 35% boost in quarterly profit, thanks to strong Internet sales and demand for its gadgets.

Cosmetics seller Avon Products (AVP) increased guidance for first quarter and full year earnings on strength in Europe and Latin America.

Lattice Semiconductor (LSCC) restated three quarters of results to show wider losses but the semiconductor outfit posted a narrower fourth-quarter loss and affirmed its first-quarter guidance.

Treasury Market

Treasuries moved lower on the data as jobless claims still show layoffs easing, and the GDP report showed inflation still tame, according to Informa Global Markets. But Informa said Treasuries have been paring some of the session's losses on the back of a few "terror" related headlines, which renewed some discomfort for short-sellers.

World Markets

European stock markets closed higher on Thursday. London's Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index gained 64.20 points, or 1.49%, to 4,373.60 as clothing retailer Next and hedge fund Man Group were among the gainers.

In Paris, the CAC 40 was up 51.95 points, or 1.48%, to 3,570.40. Among gainers are steelmaker Arcelor and hazardous suit and protective material maker Bacou-Dalloz.

Germany's DAX index added 85.85 points, or 2.30%, to 3,811.92 as German stocks had their first advance in over a week. Among the gainers were financial service provider AWD Holding and chemical maker Bayer.

In Asia, the equity markets finished mixed. The Nikkei 225 index added 165.92 points, or 1.46%, to 11,530.91.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index eased 157.92 points, or 1.25%, to 12,520.21.


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