- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) — The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index reached their highest levels in nearly 19 months yesterday as upbeat economic reports suggested that inflation is under control and better times are ahead for the nation’s battered manufacturing sector.

The rally drove the Dow up more than 100 points, and helped the Nasdaq Composite Index close higher after being down for much of the session. Analysts said investors were rotating away from riskier tech stocks and into large-cap value companies as they lock in gains before the end of the year.

“The long-term economic numbers are strengthening, which I think is good, so now let’s see if the corporate numbers remain favorable,” said Stephen Carl, head of equity trading at the Williams Capital Group. “If we can get the moon and all the stars lined up right, we could see a very good start to the next year.”

Recent events — such as the Dow jumping past the 10,000 level and the weekend capture of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein — also have helped boost investor confidence.

The Dow closed up 106.74, or 1.1 percent, at 10,129.56, its highest level in nearly 19 months. It last closed higher on May 23 last year, when it ended the day at 10,216.08.

The broader market gauges also closed higher. The S&P; 500 reached an almost 19-month high, closing up 7.09, or 0.7 percent, at 1,075.13. It last finished higher on May 24 last year, when it closed at 1,083.82.

And the technology-heavy Nasdaq struggled into positive territory in the last hour of the session, closing up 6.03, or 0.3 percent, at 1,924.29.

Advancers yesterday included Oracle Corp., which closed up 42 cents at $13.12 after its quarterly earnings beat analyst expectations by a penny a share. The high-tech bellwether’s report bodes well for others in the sector, as it suggests that companies slowly are starting to increase spending on business software.

Motorola Inc. closed up 54 cents at $13.33 after its board announced that it had elected former Sun Microsystems Inc. executive Edward J. Zander as its new chief executive.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. gained 65 cents to close at $51.39 after a rough session on Monday, when it saw sharp declines after reporting that same-store sales growth for the month was tracking at the low end of its forecast.

Other retailers were under pressure, however, including Sears, Roebuck and Co., which closed down 91 cents at $43.59 after it reported sales that were below expectations.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners about 3-to-2 on the NYSE.

Consolidated volume was heavier, at 1.91 billion shares, compared with 1.90 billion shares traded Monday.

The Russell 2000 Index, which tracks smaller-company stocks, closed up 2.49, or 0.5 percent, at 537.74.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average finished 2.1 percent lower yesterday, after seeing a sharp rise in the previous session on news of Saddam’s capture. In Europe, France’s CAC-40 closed down 0.1 percent, Britain’s FTSE 100 ended the day 0.3 percent lower, and Germany’s DAX index lost 0.2 percent.

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