- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Anticipation over a strong earnings season and hopes for a good job-growth report sent stocks higher in a late afternoon rally yesterday, with the Nasdaq Composite Index closing above 2,000 for the first time since March 8.

Analysts pointed to a continuing stream of earnings outlooks, many of which promised better-than-expected results when quarterly reports start coming out next week.

However, the light volume in yesterday’s session meant that many investors preferred to wait until Friday’s job creation figures before making any big moves, analysts said.

“We’re just taking a breather here, and that’s perfectly normal,” said Bill Groenveld, head trader for vFinance Investments. “But with everything you’ve got going on with the economy and earnings, once the employment numbers come in on Friday, everything is going to rally.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 52.07, or 0.5 percent, to 10,381.70. It was the second straight day of gains for the Dow, which has advanced in three of the past four sessions.

Broader stock indicators were also higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was up 4.53, or 0.4 percent, at 1,127.00, and the Nasdaq Composite Index gained 8.06, or 0.4 percent, to 2,000.63.

The Nasdaq had been in negative territory most of the day until the overall rally caught up to technology stocks. While the 2,000 barrier means little on a fundamental basis, it is seen as a psychological boost for many investors who were nervous about falling prices over the last month.

The latest Conference Board consumer confidence index reading, released yesterday morning, did not move the markets initially. The group’s March consumer confidence index stood at 88.3, down from 88.5 in February. While the reading was better than expected, it showed consumer confidence is still lagging.

Accenture Ltd. gained 40 cents to $24.45 after posting better-than-expected earnings. The consulting company also announced that Chief Executive Officer Joe Forehand will relinquish his post Sept. 1, but remain chairman of the company.

The European Union approved Johnson & Johnson’s bid to buy out Merck & Co.’s stake in their joint venture, which sells nonprescription drugs from the two companies in Europe. Merck will continue to receive royalties from a number of products. Johnson & Johnson slipped 15 cents to $50.42, and Merck fell 47 cents to $44.10.

Intergraph Corp. jumped $3.28, or 16 percent, to $23.67 after announcing it has settled legal disputes with Intel Corp. and Dell Inc. over microprocessor patents. Intergraph will receive $225 million from Intel over the next year. Intel fell 26 cents to $27.43, while Dell was up 4 cents at $33.92.

Boeing Co. received much-needed good news regarding its contract to sell 100 tankers to the Air Force for $23.5 billion. While the Air Force inspector general said significant questions remain about the acquisition, there was “no compelling reason” to block the deal. Boeing was up 40 cents at $40.33.

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