- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - Wall Street extended its rally into a third day as investors took in stride a cut in General Electric Co.’s credit rating.

Standard & Poor’s lowered GE’s top rating one notch because of problems at the company’s lending arm. However investors were relieved that S&P; said it was not considering further credit downgrades for the blue-chip company, the oldest member of the Dow Jones industrials.

GE stock jumped more than 13 percent, helping drive the Dow back above the 7,000 mark.

“It’s oddly encouraging” that GE maintained a stable rating after its downgrade, said Kim Caughey, equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group. S&P; and other ratings services have been trying to act more aggressively following criticism over the past year for failing to identify risks in subprime mortgage investments, she noted.

Another big gainer in the Dow was General Motors Corp., which has been borrowing money from the government to stay in business. GM’s chief financial officer said the company will not need the $2 billion loan for March it previously requested. GM rose nearly 13 percent.

In midafternoon trading, the Dow Jones industrials rose 151.01, or 2.2 percent, to 7,081.41.

Broader stock indicators also rose. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 16.58, or 2.3 percent, to 737.94, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 27.26, or 2 percent, to 1,398.90.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 12.62, or 3.5 percent, to 378.92.

Advancing stocks outnumbered decliners by more than 4 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 661.9 million shares.

The market rose modestly Wednesday after soaring on Tuesday in response to news that Citigroup Inc. was profitable in January and February. It was the market’s first two-day advance in more than a month.

Bank stocks continued to climb Thursday _ Citigroup rose 4.5 percent, Wells Fargo & Co. rose 3 percent, Bank of America Corp. rose 9.5 percent, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. rose 6.6 percent.

Despite those gains, investors are still anxiously awaiting details from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner about a plan for dealing with the “toxic” loan-backed assets that are still sitting on banks’ books. Geithner spoke at a Senate hearing Thursday but mainly about the federal budget.

The economic news was mixed but investors focused on a better-than-expected report on retail sales. S

ales fell 0.1 percent in February, which was far less than less than the 0.5 percent slide economists had predicted. The government also revised January’s performance to show a 1.8 percent increase, the biggest rise in three years and stronger than the 1 percent gain that was originally reported.

But there was some bad news about the economy kept coming on Thursday. First-time claims for unemployment benefits rose last week to 654,000 from 639,000 the week before, more than analysts had expected.

Investors are also aware that much of this week’s rebound can be attributed to technical factors.

The selloff that hurled the stock market to 12-year lows last week was driven largely by short-selling, when a trader bets on a stock falling by selling borrowed shares. Traders have now been covering those short bets by buying stocks, after the Securities and Exchange Commission said it was considering reinstating the “Uptick Rule.” The rule, eliminated in 2007, aimed at curbing short-selling by only allowing it when a stock edged higher.

Short-sellers “are having to think long and hard about how they’re going to do business going forward,” Caughey said. Lately, driving stocks lower through short-selling has “been like shooting fish in a barrel,” she said.

The pharmaceutical industry was driven higher Thursday by more acquisition news.

Switzerland’s Roche Holding AG agreed to buy the rest of Genentech Inc. for $46.8 billion, while Gilead Sciences Inc. agreed to buy CV Therapeutics Inc. for $1.4 billion. Earlier this week, drugmakers Merck and Schering-Plough agreed to merge in a $41 billion deal.

Bond prices fell as stocks rose. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.85 percent from 2.91 percent.

The dollar rose against other major currencies. Gold prices also rose.

Light, sweet crude for April delivery rose $3.07 to $45.40 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Overseas markets were mixed. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.5 percent, Germany’s DAX index rose 1.1 percent, and France’s CAC-40 rose 0.8 percent. Japan’s Nikkei stock average dropped 2.4 percent, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 0.6 percent.


On the Net:

New York Stock Exchange: https://www.nyse.com

Nasdaq Stock Market: https://www.nasdaq.com

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