- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Slight improvements in Europe’s troubled debt markets and China’s economy were enough to send stocks sharply higher Tuesday. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index topped 1,300 for the first time since July 28, before the European debt crisis set off months of volatility.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 125 points, or 1 percent, to 12,547 in midday trading. Only one of the 30 stocks in the Dow declined.

The Nasdaq composite index rose 31, or 1.1 percent, to 2,741.

The S&P 500 rose 11 points, or 0.9 percent, to 1,300 as of 12:20 p.m. EST, after rising as high as 1,303.

Debt auctions by Spain, Greece and Europe’s bailout fund drew solid interest from investors, easing fears that recent credit-rating downgrades would prevent them from obtaining funds. The downgrades have threatened to increase borrowing costs and intensify the region’s debt crisis.

The Chinese government said earlier that its economy slowed less dramatically in the fourth quarter than analysts had expected.

There’s so much money sitting in short-term accounts and earning zero return that even a shred of good news can jolt the market higher, said David Kelly, chief market strategist with J.P. Morgan Funds.

“The stock market is cheap, but cash and Treasurys are extremely expensive,” Mr. Kelly said. “That’s why even though people are busy taking money out of stocks and putting it into bond funds, they really should be doing the opposite.”

Bank stocks were mixed after several of them reported earnings. Wells Fargo & Co. rose 1.6 percent after its results beat Wall Street estimates as its lending business improved. Citigroup Inc. fell 6.7 percent, and M&T Bank Corp. fell 1 percent after its earnings fell short of estimates.

Carnival Corp. plunged 14 percent after a cruise ship owned by one of its brands capsized off the coast of Italy, killing 11 passengers. Italian prosecutors are charging the captain with manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship before all passengers were evacuated.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Co. fell 4 percent as analysts predicted ripple effects through the industry.

Overseas markets rose earlier Tuesday after Spain auctioned off billions in short-term debt at sharply lower interest rates, indicating strong demand for that nation’s bonds. Spain’s borrowing costs spiked in recent weeks on fears it would be engulfed by the crisis and default on its debts.

Standard & Poor’s downgraded Spain’s credit rating on Friday. The strong demand at the auction suggested that investors took the downgrade in stride.

Greece also auctioned off short-term debt on Tuesday at a lower rate than it had been paying. The fund to bail out Greece and other troubled nations also raised money, despite a downgrade on Monday.

The bailout fund’s credit rating is based on the ratings of the nations that contribute to it. It was downgraded because S&P had cut ratings for most of the nations that use the euro and back the fund.

Earlier, the Chinese government said its economic growth slowed to 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter. That was the lowest in 2½ years, but still better than the 8.7 percent predicted by analysts.

Chinese growth must stay strong to keep the global economy moving as Europe tips toward recession, said Brian Levitt, an economist with Oppenheimer Funds.

“Many emerging markets are more linked via exports to the Chinese market than to the European economy, so China becomes sort of the lynchpin economic activity across much of the world,” he said.

Asian and European markets closed higher. France’s CAC 40 rose 1.4 percent; Germany’s DAX added 1.8 percent.

Greece’s international lenders are inspecting the nation’s efforts at fiscal and structural reform and negotiating over its next round of bailout cash. Greece continues to rely on international loans to prevent a potentially disastrous default on its bonds.

Greece still lacks a deal with the private holders of those bonds. The international lenders say it needs a deal to get the next chunk of bailout cash.

Among the other U.S. companies making big moves Tuesday:

• Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. rose 4.4 percent after it agreed Friday to buy Summit Entertainment, owner of the blockbuster “Twilight” franchise, for $412.5 million in cash and stock.

• R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. lost 14 percent after the printing company said its 2011 profit margin will be narrower than it had forecast earlier.

The market was closed Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.


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