- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) — Broad-based gains in employment sent stocks higher, with the Dow Jones industrials gaining more than 104 points as investors regained some confidence in the economy. However, interest-rate concerns remain, and the markets finished mixed for the week.

The 243,000 jobs created in February — spread throughout the service and industrial sectors — surpassed the 170,000 jobs created the previous month, according to the Labor Department. Average wages rose just 0.3 percent, and the unemployment rate rose to 4.8 percent from 4.7 percent in January.

The report was well balanced in addressing Wall Street’s concerns of late. The job increase points to continued economic growth, while the modest wage gains and slightly higher unemployment rate mollified fears of more workers creating higher demand for goods and possibly sparking inflation. Lower inflation could mean fewer interest-rate increases from the Federal Reserve. While keeping inflation in check, higher rates could stall economic growth.

“I think stock investors right now are looking at a Fed that might not go beyond March’s rate hike,” said Matthew Smith, vice president at Smith Affiliated Capital. “We’re seeing signs in this report that the economic growth engine isn’t going to continue steaming ahead. And that’s a good sign for rates.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, rose 104.06, or 0.95 percent, to 11,076.34.

Broader stock indicators also moved higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 9.35, or 0.73 percent, to 1,281.58, and the Nasdaq Composite Index gained 12.32, or 0.55 percent, to 2,262.04.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 8.06, or 1.12 percent, to 726.34.

Bond prices headed lower, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.76 percent from 4.72 percent late Thursday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

Oil prices edged lower as traders digested the week’s news — higher U.S. energy stockpiles and steady production levels from major producers. A barrel of light crude settled at $59.96, down 51 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

While stocks were impressive, a broader look at the markets over the past few weeks shows gains and losses but, ultimately, little change as investors look to the Fed’s meeting at the end of the month for better guidance on economic conditions.

“I don’t see what we got here today as anything other than a technical move upward, and it’s because there’s no real bad news,” said Bill Groenveld, head trader for VFinance Investments. “We’re still kind of in this range we’ve been in for a while, and there’s no real argument you can make to break out in either direction until we see some better data.”

For the week, the Dow rose 0.5 percent, while the S&P; fell 0.44 percent and the Nasdaq tumbled 1.75 percent.

In company news, JPMorgan Chase & Co. gained 8 cents to $41.13 even though the company said in a regulatory filing late Thursday that it expects higher credit losses in 2006 due to higher minimum-payment rules for credit cards, which are due to take effect in the second half of the year.

According to newspaper reports, Amazon.com Inc. is in talks with three movie studios to provide downloadable movies to its customers to rent or buy, a service that could start as early as this summer. Amazon.com rose 10 cents to $36.22.

Google Inc. dropped $5.50 to $337.50 after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported the online services company purchased a startup company that makes an online word processor, another move seen as a challenge to Microsoft Corp. Microsoft added 17 cents to $27.17.

Nortel Networks Corp. fell 7 cents to $3.02 after the company reported a $2.21 billion loss for the fourth quarter. The company also said it will be forced to restate past financial statements due to accounting errors, and warned that it could default on its $1.3 billion credit facility.

The Nasdaq Stock Market Inc. jumped $4.06, or 10 percent, to $43.56 after the London Stock Exchange said it received, and rejected, a $4.2 billion takeover bid from the U.S. exchange, saying that it undervalued the LSE. The NYSE Group Inc., which has said it is looking to acquire other exchanges, fell $1.55 to $74.55.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by more than 11 to 5 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 0.49 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 was up 0.89 percent, France’s CAC-40 climbed 1.23 percent for the session and Germany’s DAX index gained 1.27 percent.

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