Image: A specilaist works at his post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
Richard Drew  /  AP
A specialist works at his post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as Americans rush to the polls to decide on the next president.
updated 11/5/2008 6:49:01 AM ET 2008-11-05T11:49:01

Wall Street enjoyed an Election Day rally Tuesday, ending the day sharply higher as investors brushed off more weak economic data and looked forward to putting the uncertainty of the presidential voting behind them. The Dow Jones industrial average soared more than 300 points, ending with its highest close in four weeks.

The market held on to the improving tone it has seen in recent sessions, although volume was very light, which tends to skew price moves and make it appear that the market is stronger than it actually is. Still, analysts saw more optimism on the Street, in part because the election was finally at hand.

“This has been a tremendously long campaign,” said Bernie McGinn, chief executive of McGinn Investment Management. “I think that part of the problems that we had could have been compounded by the fact that we were right smack in the middle of a heated election.”

Analysts predict stocks are headed for a recovery no matter who is elected, as the policies of both John McCain and Barack Obama will likely be guided by the weak economy and the recent flood of government support designed to keep the global financial system from collapsing.

Major Market Indices

Matt King, chief investment officer of Oakland, Calif.-based Bell Investment Advisors, said investors are moving into the market in anticipation of the economy improving.

“It’s pretty typical of how bear markets end,” King said. “The stock market recovers well ahead of the economy.”

The market again looked past a downbeat economic report, as it did on Monday, when investors calmly received a report of a big slowdown in manufacturing before the Dow finished essentially flat.

Video: Unusual election indicators

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that factory orders fell 2.5 percent in September from August levels, much worse than the 0.7 percent drop analysts predicted. But investors generally expect data from September, and even October, to be extremely weak, as credit markets began to seize up in mid-September. Analysts believe much of the bad news is already factored into stock prices; last week saw the Dow rise 11.3 percent — its best weekly gain in 34 years.

“The risk of a depression is off the table,” said Ben Halliburton, chief investment officer of Tradition Capital Management.

Still, analysts say the market’s gains might not be sustainable. Though the uncertainty surrounding the election will be cleared, they said there are still many economic challenges, and some of the market volatility seen in October, in the weeks and months ahead.

“In the next couple of days, people are going to focus on the fact that we still have these issues,” McGinn said, referring to the worsening economy. “They aren’t resolved.”

Unoffical closing numbers showed, the Dow rose 305.45, or 3.28 percent, to 9,625.28. The Dow last closed above 9,500 on Oct. 6, when it finished at 9,955.50.

The broader indexes also rose. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 39.43, or 4.08 percent, to 1,005.73, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 53.79, or 3.12 percent, to 1,780.12.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 5 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to a light 914.9 million shares.

Energy and industrial stocks led the market higher, while health care names, often a defensive investment, showed more modest advances. Exxon Mobil Corp. rose $1.61, or 2.2 percent, to $75.90, Alcoa Inc. rose 42 cents, or 3.5 percent, to $12.30. Johnson & Johnson advanced 58 cents, or 0.95 percent, to $61.74.

There were other signs of the market’s confidence. Wall Street’s fear gauge, the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, known as the VIX, fell below 50 to its lowest level in about a month. The VIX normally trades below 30 and tracks options activity for the companies that make up the S&P 500.

As they did Tuesday, investors have overlooked a spate of bad economic data recently, including the report Monday from the Institute for Supply Management that revealed the worst monthly contraction in manufacturing activity. Additionally, automakers reported the lowest level of U.S. car sales in more than 17 years. The market closed narrowly mixed in light trading Monday, with the Dow making just a single-digit point decline — something that has become unheard of in recent months in the midst of daily several hundred point swings.

“The economic activity in October is obviously very poor,” said Halliburton, “and is going to have some very bad numbers reported, and I think that is going to continue in the fourth quarter.” As such, investors have begun dipping their toes back in to the market to take advantage of some of the buying opportunities created by the violent swings last month.

The disruptions in the credit markets have been at the heart of the recent market volatility, as the evaporation in lending made it difficult for businesses and consumers to get loans, and sparked widespread panic about the economy’s ability to avoid a severe downturn. While lending has eased somewhat, analysts contend that the state of the credit markets will remain one of the biggest land mines in the weeks ahead.

Some analysts dismissed the notion that the election was affecting the markets.

“I seriously doubt it has much to do with the election, other than we’re all looking forward to it being over,” said independent investment strategist Edward Yardeni.

The fact that Wall Street is in the final stretch of a tough year is probably lifting stocks more than the elections, he said. “It’s almost been a classic textbook crash in September and October followed by a year-end rally.”

The key bank-to-bank lending rate known as Libor fell to 2.71 percent from Monday’s rate of 2.86 percent for three-month dollar loans. A fall in the London Interbank Offered Rate indicates that banks are more willing to lend to one another; a month ago, when the credit markets were paralyzed by banks’ fear that they wouldn’t be repaid on loans, it stood at 4.33 percent.

Investors’ demand for short-term government debt remained high, however, a sign that they are still cautious and willing to take a very small return on their investments in exchange for security. The yield on the three-month Treasury bill, seen as one of the safest assets around, rose to 0.49 percent from 0.47 percent Monday. A low yield indicates high demand.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 3.76 percent from 3.92 percent late Monday.

The dollar fell against most other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

Light, sweet crude jumped $6.79 to $70.70 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, a reaction to the slide in the dollar.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei index soared 6.27 percent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index edged up 0.28 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 4.42 percent, Germany’s DAX index jumped 5.00 percent, and France’s CAC-40 advanced 4.62 percent.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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