Markets kick off new year with bang

Economic recovery gains momentum

Trader Rick Brunetti (right) works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Monday. The Dow Jones rose 93 points. (Associated Press)Trader Rick Brunetti (right) works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Monday. The Dow Jones rose 93 points. (Associated Press)
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The economy and markets got off to a strong start in the new year as signs emerged Monday of gains in manufacturing, construction and employment.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose as much as 130 points on the news before trimming its gains to end 93 points higher at 11,671 — a two-year high that adds to last year’s double-digit percentage gains for the Dow.

The market’s upbeat start to 2011 was set off by a report showing gathering strength in manufacturing, but also reflects a string of other reports showing economic growth was accelerating as it entered the new year.

The brighter economic outlook that has seemed to unfold with each day’s news has sent economists scrambling to raise their forecasts for growth in 2011 to between 3 percent and 4 percent on average from a previous blue-chip consensus forecast of 2.6 percent.

“We are moving from recovery to expansion in the economy,” said John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities. “Economic growth in the U.S. economy looks sustained and there is no double-dip in the outlook.”

Line workers assemble a 2011 Dodge Avenger at the Chrysler Sterling Heights Assembly plant in Sterling Heights, Mich. Manufacturers produced more goods and booked more orders last month. (Associated Press)

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The news has been music to the ears of stock investors, enabling all the major indexes to post double-digit gains last year on the back of a major year-end rally that handed the Standard & Poor’s 500 index of blue-chip stocks its best December in 19 years.

Monday’s nearly 1 percent gain in the Dow and the S&P 500 continued the trend and was a good omen for the stock market generally, coming on the first trading day of the year, analysts say.

Since 1945, the S&P 500 has ended the year in positive territory 74 percent of the time it posted gains in the first trading day, with an average annual gain of 10.6 percent, according to Birinyi Associates.

“While financial markets are always fickle, the economic fundamentals which support them improved in late 2010,” a trend that seems to be continuing this year, said David Kelly, chief market strategist at JP Morgan Chase.

To take advantage of better growth this year, many investors are taking money out of bonds and putting it into stocks. That, in turn, is prompting forecasters to predict another year of solid double-digit gains in the S&P, of about 11 percent this year.

Monday’s catalyst for the market, a report on manufacturing from the Institute for Supply Management, showed production and employment expanding in manufacturing, thanks to a revival of auto and equipment sales in the U.S. as well as robust growth in orders from overseas.

About the only thing negative in the report, Mr. Silvia said, was a jump in the prices that manufacturers paid for raw goods such as copper, steel, nickel, aluminum and oil. Those commodity prices have been rising rapidly as a result of fast growth in emerging countries such as China and India as well as the U.S. economic revival.

“The U.S. economy finished the year on a high note,” said Harm Bandholz, an economist at Unicredit Markets, who recently revised his forecast for economic growth this year to 3 percent from 2 percent.

The improved outlook is not only a result of the gains in manufacturing, he said, but also an acceleration in consumer spending at the end of last year that produced the best Christmas selling season, by some estimates, since 2005.

Like other economists, Mr. Bandholz credits the lift from the $880 billion tax cut and unemployment benefits package passed by Congress last month, which will put another $150 billion into the pockets of consumers and businesses.

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