- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wall Street ended a two-day slump Wednesday with investors seizing on upbeat housing and insurance news but remaining cautious on looming corporate-earnings reports.

The Dow was up 47.55 points, to close at 7,837.11. The Standard & Poor's 500 index closed 9.61 points up, to 825.16, and the Nasdaq Composite Index closed at 1,590.66, up 29.05 points.

The markets opened with modest gains following Pulte Homes Inc.'s announcement that it will buy Centex Corp. in a $1.3 billion deal that will create the biggest home-building company in the country.

Centex shares rose nearly 19 percent, while Pulte's dropped more than 10 percent.

Investors also responded favorably to a Wall Street Journal report that the Treasury Department will extend bailout money to some struggling life insurance companies, a major part of the U.S. financial system, analysts said.

The Treasury is expected to announce within the next several days the expansion of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to insurance companies that own banks, sources told the newspaper.

In addition to banks, which are receiving TARP funds, insurance companies have been among the hardest hit by the recession. Millions of Americans have invested in such companies, so financial markets would suffer if those investors redeem their premiums.

Stock in Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. rose 14 percent. Prudential Financial Corp. gained more than 7 percent.

The modest gains Wednesday followed a dismal first-quarter earnings report by Alcoa, a major U.S. aluminum manufacturer and component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The company reported a $497 million loss, its second consecutive quarterly loss as aluminum prices drop in the global recession.

First-quarter reports from other companies are to follow in the coming weeks.

“The real story over the next days will be the earnings reports, so trading will be choppy,” said Brian Lipps, a Charles Schwab & Co. vice president. “Investors are also looking for guidance after the good news from the recent economic indicators.”

The Dow opened this week on its best four-week run since 1933 and above the 8,000 mark for the first time since early February. Major stock indexes are still up roughly 20 percent from 12-year lows in early March, despite losing nearly 3 percent over the past two days.

The markets will be closed this week for Good Friday.

In overseas markets, Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 2.7 percent; Britain's FTSE rose 0.2 percent; Germany's DAX index rose 1.2 percent; and France's CAC-40 rose 0.4 percent.

Also Wednesday, the Security and Exchange Commission voted to go forward with proposals to curb short selling, a procedure in which traders try to profit from a stock's decline in value. The agency will not make a decision before early summer.

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