- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) Wall Street moved moderately higher yesterday as President Bush's prediction that U.S.-led forces will prevail in Iraq prompted investors to pick up bargains after a steep decline Monday.
Analysts said investors seemed to take heart from a variety of developments, including a somewhat positive consumer confidence report and reports of a civilian uprising in southern Iraq. Volume also was light, creating sharper price swings.
"We had a bunch of small stories that have added to the stronger-than-expected economic data, which has helped stabilize the market," said Todd Clark, head of listed equity trading at Wells Fargo Securities.
"The market is sort of settling into a feeling of while war is going to take awhile, we're back in control," he said.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 65.55, or 0.8 percent, at 8,280.23 after declining 307 points in the previous session on disappointment about war developments during the weekend. The loss on Monday was the largest one-day point drop since Sept. 3.
Earlier yesterday, blue-chip stocks had climbed 123 points before losing some momentum after the Senate unexpectedly voted to slash Mr. Bush's proposed $726 billion tax cut in half.
The broader market also finished higher. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 21.23, or 1.6 percent, to 1,391.01, after the loss of 52 points Monday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 10.51, or 1.2 percent, to 874.74, having dropped 31 points on Monday.
Yesterday, U.S. and British forces slowly edged closer to the Iraqi capital, hampered by swirling sandstorms. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the war would be tough, with difficult days likely ahead.
But Mr. Bush said coalition forces are "on a steady advance" in the Middle East and will prevail. British forces also battled 1,000 Iraqi soldiers in Basra and a British reporter said residents were staging an uprising against forces loyal to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Meanwhile, investors found encouragement in a pair of mixed economic reports yesterday.
The Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index fell to 62.5 from a revised 64.8 in February, citing worries about the war's effect on the economy. Still, the reading beat analysts' expectations of 62.0.
Also, the National Association of Realtors reported that existing-home sales came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.84 million, representing a 4.3 percent decline from a record-high sales pace in January. Even with the drop, it was the fourth-best month on record.
Stocks have surged in recent weeks on investor hopes of a brief war as well as bets that Saddam may have been killed. But Wall Street had quick declines Monday after allied forces encountered resistance from Iraqi troops and after Saddam was seen in a televised speech.
"Clearly, Baghdad is the 800-pound gorilla in the room dominating investment decisions," said A.C. Moore, chief investment strategist for Dunvegan Associates.
"At the same time, there's an undercurrent of positive economic progress, and stocks have good value."
Airborne rose $1.82 to $19.87 after Deutsche Post's DHL shipping service agreed to buy the third-largest U.S. package delivery service for $1.05 billion.
UnumProvident climbed $1.58 to $9.91 after the nation's largest disability insurer said it will restate three years of earnings in response to questions raised by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
JetBlue gained 66 cents to $28.61 after Bear Stearns initiated coverage of the airline company at "outperform."
Decliners included Union Pacific, which fell 46 cents to $56.20, after the company cut its first-quarter outlook to below analysts' estimates, citing rising fuel prices.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners nearly 3-to-1 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Volume was light at 1.33 billion shares, although higher than the 1.29 billion traded Monday.
The Russell 2000 index, a barometer of smaller-company stocks, rose 4.54, or 1.2 percent, to 371.79.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average finished 2.3 percent lower yesterday.

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