- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street capped a week of big gains with another sizable advance yesterday after investors set aside anxiety over news that the economy lost jobs last month and instead focused on Microsoft Corp.’s bid for Internet company Yahoo Inc. and a possible rescue plan for the troubled bond insurance sector.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index each rose more than 4 percent for the week, their steepest gains since March 2003.

Stocks fluctuated at times yesterday, however, as investors weighed seemingly contradictory readings on the economy. Wall Street was pleased by Microsoft’s $44.6 billion bid for Yahoo. Merger news, which often energizes stocks, has been in short supply for months. But the mix of economic news reminded investors of the continuing fallout from the housing and mortgage crisis.

The first blow came from the Labor Department’s worrisome employment report for January. The economy lost 17,000 jobs, marking the first contraction of the labor market in more than four years. The news confounded economists, who were expecting 70,000 new jobs, according to Thomson/IFR. The unemployment rate fell to 4.9 percent from 5 percent in December, though the move came as the labor pool shrank.

The Commerce Department added to the fray, reporting that construction spending dropped 1.1 percent in December, the most in 15 months and twice what analysts expected.

And rating agency Moody’s Investors Service warned during a conference call yesterday that it expects to downgrade some bond insurers this month. A top rating is crucial for bond insurers to draw new business and for investors to feel secure about the bonds these companies already insure.

Stocks did get some ballast from a report showing a January pickup in the nation’s manufacturing sector. The Institute for Supply Management, a business group, said its index of manufacturing activity rose to 50.7 from 48.4 in December. Wall Street had expected the figure would come in at 47, a reading that would indicate a contraction of the manufacturing sector.

“We’re starting to see the long-term investors and the fund mangers come back into the market. That’s why I think you’re seeing stocks rally even when there is negative news,” said Marc Pado, U.S. market strategist for Cantor Fitzgerald. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 92.83, or 0.73 percent, to 12,743.19 after climbing more than 200 points Thursday.

Broader stock indicators also moved higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 16.87, or 1.22 percent, to 1,395.42, and the Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 23.50, or 0.98 percent, to 2,413.36.

For the week, the Dow jumped 536.02 points, or 4.4 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, the market measure most closely followed by professional traders, added 4.9 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index rose 3.8 percent.

The Russell 2000 Index of smaller companies rose 17.20, or 2.41 percent, yesterday to 730.50.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by more than 3 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.79 billion shares compared with 2.19 billion shares traded Thursday.

Bond prices showed little movement. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, stood unchanged at 3.59 percent from late Thursday.

The dollar rose against most other major currencies, while gold prices fell.

Light, sweet crude oil fell $2.79 to settle at $88.96 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after the employment report raised concerns that the U.S. economy will slow and hurt demand for oil.

Stocks climbed yesterday after a week in which Wall Street saw huge gains but also enormous volatility. The week began with a sharp advance as investors awaited the Federal Reserve’s decision on interest rates.

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