- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2001

NEW YORK An unexpected interest-rate cut and a stream of positive earnings news sent stock prices soaring yesterday, with the Dow Jones industrials leaping as much as 470 points and the Nasdaq barreling back above 2,000.

Better-than-expected first-quarter profits had already sent stocks sharply higher in midmorning trading when the Federal Reserve announced it was lowering interest rates by 0.5 percentage point. The cut, the fourth this year, gave investors hope that the economy and earnings will rebound by the end of 2001.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared 399.10, or 3.9 percent, to 10,615.83, the index's third-largest daily point gain. The blue chips were up as much as 470 points before settling back before the close.

The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 156.22, or 8.1 percent, to 2,079.44, reaching the 2,000 level for the first time since March 15 and posting its fourth-best daily percentage gain.

The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 46.63, or 3.9 percent, to 1,238.16.

The market's early, earnings-inspired gains were not a surprise; stocks have been moving higher this month, including the Nasdaq's four-day winning streak last week, its first such advance since early September. Wall Street has been encouraged by the market's recent stability despite poor earnings reports.

Investors also expected stocks to recover somewhat after the major indexes suffered their worst first quarter in decades, when even the Dow industrials considered the safest havens on Wall Street slipped briefly into bear-market territory.

However, the rate cut was quite unexpected. Analysts said the market was particularly pleased by the Fed's move because it was bigger and sooner than anticipated, coming ahead of the Fed's mid-May meeting.

"It energized the market right on the spot," said Alan Ackerman, executive vice president for Fahnestock & Co. "The market was really waiting for a catalyst, and this Fed move appears to have been just that."

But analysts cautioned that the market remains vulnerable after months of losses and volatility and that it was too soon to tell if yesterday's momentum would last.

"You have to take a wait-and-see attitude," said Ricky Harrington, a technical analyst for Wachovia Securities.

The Fed's move came shortly after the Conference Board reported that its Index of Leading Economic Indicators, used as a forecasting tool, fell during March, signaling continued weakness in the economy. Investors have been hoping the Fed would cut rates more aggressively to stimulate the economy and ultimately send profits and stock prices higher.

Some of the Dow's lift came from General Motors, IBM and J.P. Morgan Chase, all of which released earnings yesterday that pleasantly surprised Wall Street.

GM rose $3.17 to $56.80 after announcing it made 50 cents a share, well ahead of the 26 cents analysts anticipated. IBM, which reported earnings that met expectations after the market closed, gained $4.80 in extended-hours trading, adding to the strong performance it made in the regular session, where it closed up $6.80 at $106.50.

Banker J.P. Morgan Chase reported that it earned 70 cents a share, 4 cents higher than expectations. It advanced $3.73 to $49.10.

Analysts said one of the most encouraging aspects of yesterday's rally was the fact investors were swayed more by good news than by earnings warnings from high-tech bellwethers Cisco Systems on Tuesday and Hewlett-Packard yesterday.

Cisco rose $1.35 to $18. Hewlett-Packard, which also announced it will cut up to 3,000 management jobs, rose $2.65 to $31.90.

"The strength in tech stocks is looking much better," said Mr. Harrington, the Wachovia analyst. "There has been a continued series of negative reports that the market has shrugged off. It is the best sign, in layman's terms, that the market is ready to move up."

Some stocks, however, stumbled on weaker earnings. Gillette fell $2.50 to $26.50 after saying it missed analysts' expectations due to increased costs, a decline in sales and unfavorable foreign-exchange rates.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners about 2-to-1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume was 1.89 billion shares, well ahead of 1.11 billion on Tuesday.

The Russell 2000 index rose 10.93 to 466.51.

Overseas markets also made strong gains yesterday, with Japan's Nikkei stock average closing up 4.4 percent. Germany's DAX index climbed 4.0 percent, Britain's FT-SE 100 rose 2,2 percent, and France's CAC-40 advanced 3.1 percent.

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