Markets & Finance

Stocks End with Strong Gains


Stocks finished with frothy gains Monday with help from the possibility of lower energy prices and bullish comments on several blue-chip names.

The Dow Jones industrial average added 116.66 points, or 1.14%, to 10,329.63. The broader Standard & Poor's 500-stock index gained 14.41 points, or 1.30%, to 1,122.47. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index rose 32.55 points, or 1.66%, to 1,992.57.

Member nations of oil cartel OPEC are expected to decide this week whether to implement a plan to cut output by 1 million barrels per day, beginning Thursday. Speculation that the cut would not take place hurt oil futures, pushing them to 4-week lows last week. A fall in oil prices would benefit corporate profits and consumer confidence -- and therefore, stock investors.

Dow member Wal-Mart (WMT) said it expects March sales at U.S. stores open at least a year to reach the high end of its forecast for a 4% to 6% gain, with help from strong demand for Easter goods.

Industrial conglomerate General Electric (GE) was higher after UBS raised its rating on the company to buy1 from buy2, noting there is now "less uncertainty surrounding the impact of share issuances."

Coca-Cola. (KO) got a lift from a Bear Stearns upgrade to outperform, citing a more positive outlook on the beverage sector as a whole.

Citigroup (C) rose after a Prudential upgrade to overweight from neutral weight, citing better performance in international activities and in the capital markets. Prudential also raised its outlook on General Motors (GM), noting gains in the automaker's overseas business.

Another Dow constituent, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), was higher after a positive report by Barron's. The publication reported in its online edition Sunday that revenues and earnings growth could propel the stock higher.

Elsewhere in technology, Qualcomm (QCOM) advanced after Schwab SoundView upgraded the shares to outperform from neutral. But the firm cut its rating on Nokia (NOK) to neutral. Nokia shares were lower.

Homebuilider Hovnanian Enterprises (HOV) said Monday it expects to record a third-quarter charge of $8.7 million due to its May 1 redemption of $150 million of senior notes due 2009.

In merger news, Amgen (AMGN) said it would acquire the remaining shares of Tularik (TLRK) that it does not already own for $1.3 billion. The deal gives Amgen access to potential treatment for cancer and other diseases by regulating genes.

Also, Millennium Chemical (MCH) agreed to be acquired by Lyondell Chemical (LYO) in an all-stock deal.

In economic reports expected Tuesday, the Conference Board will provide an update on consumer confidence for March, due at 10 a.m. ET. The February reading was 87.3. Economics expect the March read to be lower, at 86.

The bulk of key economic data come later in the week, with the latest on construction spending, auto sales and weekly jobless claims due Thursday and updates on producer price index and non-farm payrolls for March due Friday.

The earnings calendar will be light for the rest of the this week. Reports scheduled for Tuesday include CarMax (KMX) and Apogee Technology (ATA).

Treasury Market

Treasuries finished lower after a London newspaper said the Bank of Japan may end yen sales, which could result in less buying of U.S. government notes. No major economic data reports were released Monday.

World Markets

European stock markets finished higher with help from upbeat corporate news and speculation the European Central Bank may cut interest rates. London's Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index gained 49.20 points, or 1.13%, to 4,406.70. Germany's DAX index added 58.92 points, or 1.54%, to 3,881.25. In Paris, the CAC 40 rose 41.79 points, or 1.16%, to 3,634.18.

In Asia, markets finished lower. The Nikkei 225 index lost 52.41 points, or 0.45%, to 11,718.24. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index fell 55.90, or 0.45%, to 12,427.34.


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