- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) Relatively solid retail sales figures inspired another rally on Wall Street yesterday as investors grew more confident about an impending economic recovery. The Dow Jones Industrial Average scored its best close in more than a month and the third triple-digit gain in four sessions.
But analysts cautioned against too much optimism, noting that investor sentiment remained fragile. Despite some short-lived rallies, stocks have moved mostly lower in recent weeks on concerns that prices are too high, given the uncertain prognosis for corporate earnings.
The Dow was less than 11 points from regaining the 10,000 level after closing up 125.93, or 1.3 percent, at 9,989.67. It was the index's best close since Jan. 10. The Dow rose 118 points on Friday and 140 on Monday.
Broader stock indicators also advanced. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index climbed 11.01, nearly 1.0 percent, to 1,118.51, while the Nasdaq Composite Index gained 24.95, or 1.4 percent, to 1,859.16.
Investors were encouraged by a Commerce Department report showing retail sales rose by a satisfactory 1.2 percent in January, excluding volatile automobile sales. Auto sales fell by 4.3 percent, but that decline was anticipated as zero-percent financing and other incentives expired.
Consumer spending is closely watched because it accounts for two-thirds of the economy.
"The number was much stronger than expected, and it's giving people a little bit of optimism that the economy is recovering better than thought," said Todd Clark, head of listed equity trading at Wells Fargo Securities.
The news helped boost retail stocks. Home Depot was up 93 cents at $51.24. Office-supplies retailer Office Depot climbed $2.30, or 14 percent, to $18.49 after raising its estimates for future earnings.
Technology stocks also fared well, helped by a better-than-expected report from Applied Materials. The chip-making equipment company rose $3.22, or 7.2 percent, to $47.93 after announcing a $45 million first-quarter loss on Tuesday that beat expectations. The company also said it expects orders in the current quarter to grow 10 percent to 15 percent.
Hewlett-Packard gained 21 cents to $20.98 ahead of quarterly results that were reported after the regular session ended. The computer and printer company beat expectations, but the stock was not available for late trading.
The buying also spread to manufacturing and industrial stocks. General Motors rose $2.13 to $51.20, while Boeing gained $1.75 to $44.90. Both are Dow components.
Analysts hesitated to get excited about the market's advance, however. They say investors remain worried that more companies will reveal accounting improprieties like the ones preceding Enron's downfall.
Moreover, while the major indexes have recovered much of their recent losses and the Dow is hovering near the psychologically important 10,000, they are still below the level at the start of the year: The Dow has fallen 0.3 percent, the Nasdaq has lost 4.7 percent and the S&P; has dropped 2.6 percent.
Wall Street also remains vulnerable to fears of more terrorist attacks.


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