- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 10, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Investors sent stocks sharply higher yesterday after the Federal Reserve reassured Wall Street that economic growth would continue despite a recent slowdown and a surge in oil prices. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 130 points in a late-session rally.

As expected, the Fed’s Open Market Committee raised benchmark interest rates by a quarter-percentage point, to 1.5 percent, the second increase in the past three months. But investors were more concerned with the central bank’s accompanying economic assessment.

The Fed said the economy has slowed, including job creation, but added that it “appears poised to resume a stronger pace of expansion going forward.”

That appeared to cheer investors, who were already buying stocks yesterday in response to a dip in oil prices. But analysts didn’t see the gains as significant.

“The Fed did what it was expected to do. But in the long term, in light of the economic weakness, this bounce we’re seeing in stocks is really not meaningful,” said Hans Olsen, managing director and chief investment officer at Bingham Legg Advisers in Boston. “I think we need to look at the subsequent economic data and then to third-quarter earnings to see what kind of economy we’re going to have.”

The Dow gained 130.01, or 1.3 percent, to 9,944.67.

Broader stock indicators were sharply higher as well. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed 13.82, or 1.3 percent, to 1,079.04, and the Nasdaq Composite Index was up 34.06, or 1.9 percent, at 1,808.70.

While prices rallied impressively — the Dow had its biggest one-day advance since June 7 — the question remained whether the markets would continue to make up lost ground after last week’s major sell-off.

Despite the downturn in consumer spending and job creation through June and July, the Labor Department announced a 2.9 percent rise in worker productivity for the second quarter. While it was the smallest increase since 2002, it was far more than economists had expected. And with crude oil down 31 cents to $44.53 a barrel yesterday, many analysts said the market was due for at least a short-term rally.

In earnings news, EchoStar Communications Corp., the satellite-television provider, was up $2.29 at $29.55 despite missing Wall Street expectations by 5 cents per share. The company blamed higher subscriber-service costs, but managed a strong gain in revenue.

May Department Stores Co., parent company of Lord & Taylor and Marshall Field, swung to a profit in the second quarter, beating estimates by a penny. May rose $1.00 to $25.90.

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