- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks extended their rally with modest gains yesterday, as Wall Street overlooked climbing oil prices to focus on strong results from Lehman Brothers and Sprint’s $35 billion deal to acquire Nextel Communications Inc.

Bullish corporate news has helped the Standard & Poor’s 500 and the Nasdaq Composite Index stretch to their highest levels since the summer of 2001 this week, but the three-day rally appeared to stagger yesterday as stocks drifted in and out of negative range. Analysts said the lack of strong selling pressure was a positive signal, though.

“The markets are a little bit flat, it’s nothing rip-roaring. Normally when you get to a significant trading level … there’s a natural inclination to take profits,” said Brian Pears, head equity trader at Victory Capital Management in Cleveland. “The fact that we’re still higher speaks to the strength of the underlying bullish trend.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 15, or 0.14 percent, to 10,691.45, just 46 points shy of its high for the year.

The broader gauges also rose, besting multiyear highs reached in the previous session. The S&P; 500 added 2.34, or 0.19 percent, to 1,205.72. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 2.71, or 0.13 percent, to 2,162.55.

Oil prices moved upward following the government’s weekly inventory report, which showed a 100,000 barrel decline in crude stores. Supplies of distillate fuels, which include heating oil, were unchanged — a disappointment to traders who had expected a build of 1 million barrels. Light, sweet crude for January delivery surged $2.37 to $44.19 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In Washington, President Bush offered assurances that his administration was working with Congress to reduce the trade and budget deficits, and said he supports “a strong-dollar policy.”

Bonds rose, pushing yields lower, a day after the Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates and suggested inflation remains in check. At least some of the strength in stocks was attributed to declining yields on the 10-year note, which slipped to 4.07 percent.

Sprint Corp. shed $1.08, or 4.3 percent, to $24.02, on the announcement that it would acquire Nextel Communications Inc. in a $35 billion deal. Nextel declined $1.29, or 4.3 percent, to $28.70.

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