- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street extended its gains into a fourth straight day yesterday after a trio of economic reports gave investors assurance the economic recovery was firmly under way.

Trading was light and choppy as many traders took the day off before Thanksgiving, when the markets are closed. Analysts said the light volume was impeding what might otherwise be stronger buying momentum.

“As everyone tried to pile out of the office, there’s simply not a whole lot of people to react to the news,” said Brian G. Belski, fundamental market strategist at US Bancorp Piper Jaffray.

“More people are focused on what’s going to happen heading into 2004 rather than the last quarter in terms of economic data,” he added.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 15.63, or 0.2 percent, at 9,779.57 after a three-day gain of 144.52 points. Earlier in the day, the blue-chip average rose as much as 30.74 points and fell as much as 57.93.

The broader market also finished modestly higher. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 10.27, or 0.5 percent, to 1,953.31. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 4.56, or 0.4 percent, to 1,058.45.

The Commerce Department reported that new orders for durable goods rose by 3.3 percent in October, up from a 2.1 percent gain in the previous month. October’s reading handily surpassed analysts’ estimates of a 0.7 percent rise; it was also the best showing since July 2002.

Meanwhile, consumer spending was steady in October and people’s incomes grew by a solid 0.4 percent, the department said separately. The readings matched economists’ predictions and the increase in income offered hope that spending might continue to be strong.

And the Labor Department said new jobless claims last week declined by a seasonally adjusted 11,000 to 351,000. It was the lowest level since January 2001.

“The stock market has discounted some of the good news — all of this is confirmation right now,” said Chris Staneluis, portfolio manager with the Armada growth funds. “But I think when fund managers come back next week, they’re going to take a look at these numbers and say, ‘Wow, this recovery is happening, and we better do something about it.’”

Stocks have climbed since mid-March, but investors are wondering whether prices might be too high now that they are trading near 52-week highs.

Ameritrade Holding Corp. gained 58 cents to $12.54 after Merrill Lynch & Co. upgraded the brokerage firm’s stock rating to “buy” from “neutral.”

Dow component Johnson & Johnson declined 99 cents to $49.70 amid questions over the company’s heart stent.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated volume was very light at 1.42 billion shares, compared with 1.72 billion traded Tuesday.

The Russell 2000 index, a barometer of smaller-company stocks, rose 2.13, or 0.4 percent, to 545.31.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average advanced 1.9 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.4 percent, France’s CAC-40 slipped 0.1 percent, and Germany’s DAX index declined 0.5 percent.

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