- The Washington Times - Friday, November 18, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — A late rebound gave Wall Street modest gains yesterday as two acquisitions and upbeat earnings from Hewlett-Packard Co. helped lift the major indexes to four-year highs. The major indexes had their fourth straight winning week.

Lower oil prices also helped stocks, easing worries about consumer spending ahead of the holiday shopping season. But many analysts remain split over whether the market will have its usual year-end rally, and trading has become erratic as mixed economic and earnings data has left investors wondering about the economy’s health.

“You’ve had a pretty good run off the October bottoms,” said Russ Koesterich, senior portfolio manager at Barclays Global Investments. “But there really are no major catalysts to help support the market coming into these levels.

Crude futures fell to five-month lows, although the approaching winter weather still has many concerned about oil and gas supplies. A barrel of light crude dropped 20 cents to settle at $56.14 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

At the close of trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 46.11, or 0.43 percent, to 10,766.33, after retreating from a 76-point gain earlier in the day.

Broader stock indicators reached their highest levels since mid-2001. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was up 5.47, or 0.44 percent, at 1,248.27, and the Nasdaq Composite rose 6.61, or 0.3 percent, to 2,227.07.

Bonds slipped, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.5 percent from 4.47 percent late Thursday. The U.S. dollar was mostly lower against other major currencies in European trading, while gold prices were little changed.

Although recent reports show the nation withstood the blows dealt by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, investors continue to be uncertain about future economic growth and corporate profits. This week brought conflicting data on inflation and retail spending, raising concerns aboutholiday sales.

For the week, the Dow added 0.75 percent, the S&P; 500 rose 1.1 percent, and the Nasdaq gained 1.12 percent. However, while the indexes are at four-year highs, their performance for the year to date is mediocre at best: The Dow is down 0.15 percent, the S&P; 500 is up 3 percent, and the Nasdaq is 2.37 percent higher.

But improving economic and earnings figures have built a foundation on which the market could close out the year with double-digit gains, said Susan Malley, chief investment officer for Malley Associates Capital Management.

“Stocks are up 5 percent or 6 percent since their October lows, and the market has broadened considerably — instead of just energy, most of the sectors are performing,” Ms. Malley said. Coupled with recent news, “that makes me feel optimistic about the rest of the year.”

Acquisitions led the day’s headlines. Networking firm Cisco Systems Inc. is buying Scientific-Atlanta Inc., a maker of cable television set-top boxes, for $6.9 billion, or $43 per share. The deal is expected to boost Cisco’s 2007 results. Cisco fell 35 cents to $17.02, and Scientific-Atlanta advanced 70 cents to $42.15.

General Electric Co. has agreed to sell most of its insurance business to Swiss Reinsurance Co., the world’s second-largest reinsurer, for $6.8 billion in cash and stock. Swiss Re will also assume $1.7 billion of GE’s debt. GE added $1.09 to $35.75.

In earnings news, Hewlett-Packard said late Thursday that a $1.1 billion restructuring charge caused its quarterly profit to slide 62 percent. But its adjusted earnings handily beat Wall Street estimates as revenue grew across its computer, printer and software divisions. Hewlett-Packard jumped 40 cents to $29.40.

Walt Disney Co. sank 79 cents to $25.20 after posting a 26 percent drop in quarterly profit, which it blamed on weak sales of DVDs and consumer products that offset higher earnings from its television and theme park units.

Clothing retailer Gap Inc. on Thursday reported its profit plunged 20 percent as sales fell modestly, prompting the company to cut its full-year outlook. Gap slid $1.45 to $17.06.

Women’s apparel maker Ann Taylor Stores Corp. said its quarterly profit more than doubled as sales expanded by 12 percent. While Ann Taylor’s income topped analysts’ expectations, its sales lagged estimates. Ann Taylor nonetheless jumped $2.14 to $30.42.

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