- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) Gains in consumer confidence and durable-goods orders brought buyers back to Wall Street yesterday, sending stocks solidly higher and ending a four-session losing streak for blue chips.
Analysts said the advance had as much to do with lower prices as positive economic news. Bargain hunting was expected after the extended sell-off, which came on concerns about the pace of the business turnaround and fears that possible interest-rate increase might further hamper profits.
"The durability of today's rally remains uncertain. … Concerns still linger over the fact that the Fed may raise interest rates at a time when earnings numbers are not strong enough to carry the economy," said Alan Ackerman, executive vice president at Fahnestock & Co.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the lightly traded session up 71.69, or 0.7 percent, at 10,353.36. The blue chip index lost 353.58 in the previous four sessions, losing all of its March advance.
Many analysts doubt that the market is again on an upward path, especially ahead of first-quarter earnings reports. The marketyesterday underscored that uncertainty as the Dow fell back from its session high, a gain of 151.12.
The broader market followed the Dow's pattern. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 11.68, or 0.6 percent, to 1,824.17, retreating from an earlier advance of 31.47.
The Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 6.62, or 0.6 percent, to 1,138.49. The S&P; had risen as much as 15.13.
Analysts expect low volume to factor into trading throughout the week as many traders take time off for Passover, which begins today, and Easter. The market will be closed Friday for Good Friday.
Stocks advanced on a Commerce Department report that said orders for big-ticket goods including airplanes and household appliances rose 1.5 percent in February, the third consecutive monthly gain. The increase is consistent with several reports during the past month that indicate improvement in the manufacturing sector.
Wall Street was also pleased with the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index, which soared in March to a seven-month high, reaching 110.2 and surpassing analysts' forecast of 98.
Blue chips ended a four-session losing stretch, which began after the Federal Reserve indicated that interest-rate increases later this year are possible, as it appears that the economy is recovering. Among Tuesday's gainers, Philip Morris rose $1.27 to $53.23, Wal-Mart advanced 89 cents to $62.17 and Intel climbed 77 cents to $30.77.
But analysts are wary of predicting a big spring rally.
"There's still a lot of concern about the strength of the recovery," said Stephen Carl, of the Williams Capital Group.
Analysts also said that stock prices might have risen too high, too fast and that investors are also likely to take some profits as companies begin reporting first-quarter earnings results next month.
"I have a sneaking suspicion that we are not going to see this run much further," said Richard A. Dickson, technical analyst for Hilliard Lyons in Louisville, Ky.
He noted that the March rally was largely confined to the Dow industrials. The Dow's highest point for March occurred on March 19, when it closed at 10,635.25, up 529.12 or 5.2 percent from the start of the month.
Yesterday's losers included WorldCom, down 41 cents at $6.11 after UBS Warburg cut its rating on the stock to "hold" from "buy."
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners 3 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange. Trading volume was light at 1.18 billion shares, ahead of Monday's 1.05 billion.
The Russell 2000 index, which measures the performance of smaller-company stocks, rose 5.27, or 1.1 percent, to 501.66.

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