- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

NEW YORK, Feb. 18 (UPI) — Stock prices on the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq Stock Market are sharply higher in light post-holiday trading at midday Tuesday as investors sidestepped the snowstorm that blanketed the Northeast and fears of a U.S. war in Iraq.

The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average, which jumped 158.93 points Friday, was ahead another 135.90 points, or 1.7 percent, to 8,044.70. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index, which gained 32.73 points in the previous session, was ahead 24.11 points, or 1.8 percent, to 1,334.28.

The broader New York Stock Exchange composite index was ahead 71.33 to 4,801.07, the Standard & Poor's 500 index was ahead 14.46 to 849.35, the American Stock Exchange composite index was ahead 4.81 points to 813.71 and the Wilshire 5000 Index was ahead 126.27 to 8,023.21.

Big Board volume slipped to an estimated 568.90 million shares from 619.40 million shares changing hands during the same period Friday. Nasdaq volume rose to 580.10 million shares from 573.20 million shares changing hands during the previous session.

Markets in the U.S. were closed Monday for the President's Day holiday. U.S. government offices in Washington are closed Tuesday because of the blizzard that hit the Northeast. Only essential personnel were told to report to work Tuesday.

Analysts noted the weather slowed a resumption of trading as many traders are still digging out of a near-record storm that hit from the Mid-Atlantic to New England over the weekend.

Experts said the mood was upbeat after the market rose on Friday as investors sidestepped nagging fears over a prospect of a U.S. war in Iraq and scooped up battered shares. Stocks finished higher last week for the first week in five.

Ralph Acampora, managing director, global equity research at Prudential Securities, said: "Last week's rally ended a four-week string of market declines. Interestingly, this sell-off actually created some improvement in sentiment.

"Fear and uncertainty are on the rise—now 40 percent of the market letter writers are bullish, versus 50 percent a few weeks ago. We would like to see this statistic drop to the 25 percent to 30 percent level, but so far, so good," he said.

"We have warned recently about near-term weakness. Now we are calling for a near-term rally. But the resistance levels must be bettered if the rally is to have any sustainability," he said.

"Our near-term, or pre-war, stance has changed a bit due to the poor performance of some intermediate-term technical indicators. They suggest that at least a retest of the October lows is possible. Hopefully there will be a resolution to the Iraqi problem before too long; such an event could reverse the need to make new lows.

"Either way, we believe one must be on guard against any serious breakdowns in individual stocks. If the market is able to continue to hold its lows, it could enhance the base-building process that appears to be forming in the leading averages," Acampora added.

On the corporate front, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation's largest retailer and a Dow component, posted a better-than-expected 15.5-percent jump in quarterly net income as strong profits abroad helped offset a sluggish performance at its U.S. Sam's Club warehouse stores.

Microsoft Corp.'s two-for-one stock split announced this year went into effect on Tuesday. Microsoft is the world's largest software maker and a Dow component.

Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury prices drifted slightly lower. The 10-year bond eased 2/32 to 99 7/32. Its yield, which moves in the opposite direction of its price, inched up to 3.97 percent from 3.96 percent late Friday.

Analysts said the U.S. government bond market pushed lower on some lessening of fears over global tensions and by a bounce in stock prices. Higher stock prices make the safety of Treasury securities a less attractive buy.

Market participants noted thin volume, with some reporting full trading desks and others saying the heavy snowfall was keeping some of their traders out.

In Europe, stock prices ended higher in moderate trading in London, Frankfurt and Paris. The London International Stock Exchange's blue-chip FTSE-100 index gained 31.0 points, or 0.8 percent, to 3,723.4. The German DAX index added 8.53 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,717.5 and the French CAC-40 index rose 56.51 points, or 1.9 percent, to 2,938.63.

In Asia, prices ended a three-day rising streak on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in busy trading, pressured by bouts of profit-taking. The blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average lost 78.92 points, or 0.9 percent, to 8,692.97.

Stocks ended slightly higher in light trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index added 13.37 points, or 0.1 percent, to 9,397.05, supported by buying in select property and banking stocks.

Prices ended lower on the Taiwan Stock Exchange amid profit-taking and concerns about a possible war in Iraq. The key Weighted Price Index of the Taiwan Stock Exchange fell 99.77 points, or 2.1 percent, to 4,605.31.

Prices also fell on the Singapore Stock Exchange, dragged down by profit-taking after a solid rally Monday. The Straits Times Index fell 7.38 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,293.81.

Prices rose slightly on the South Korean Stock Exchange, with North Korean threats to abandon the 1953 Armistice that ended the Korean War having little impact. The Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, added 1.58 points, or 0.3 percent, to 603.45.

Prices ended little changed on the Australian Stock Exchange. The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index eased 0.60 point to 2,828.90.

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