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Factory report, upbeat earnings boost stocks

A string of positive earnings reports renewed confidence in stocks Thursday and sent the major indexes sharply higher as investors shook off a steep loss posted by General Motors Corp.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A string of positive earnings reports renewed confidence in stocks Thursday and sent the major indexes sharply higher as investors shook off a steep loss posted by General Motors Corp.

While GM’s troubles deepened after it announced a quarterly loss far beyond analysts’ expectations, investors were heartened by better news from fellow Dow industrials Caterpillar Inc., AT&T Corp. and others. That’s helped Wall Street overcome last week’s sharp drop, which was blamed on poor results from a number of major corporations.

Wall Street’s concerns about the state of the economy eased after the Commerce Department reported an all-time high in factory orders for big-ticket items. Durable goods orders rose 1.3 percent for December, better than the 1 percent forecast by economists.

“The durable goods numbers are telling us that businesses are spending money, and that the outlook for the economy is solid,” said Hugh Johnson, chairman and chief investment officer of Johnson Illington Advisors. “And after last week, the earnings numbers are encouraging. So we’re seeing a good bump today.”

The Dow Jones industrial average finished the day up 99.73 points, or 0.93 percent, while the broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index added 9.15 points, or 0.72 percent. The Nasdaq composite index, full of technology stocks, gained 22.35 points, or 0.99 percent.

Bonds fell for a second session, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.51 percent from 4.48 percent late Wednesday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices moved lower.

Crude oil futures rebounded after OPEC ministers said no immediate production cuts were expected, though a cutback could occur.

Stocks moved up on higher volume, with investors regaining confidence and returning to the market after Friday’s 213-point sell-off. However, with the economy projected to slow gradually through the rest of the year, some analysts remained concerned that the multi-year highs reached earlier this month could be the best the market can do this year.

“The market strength is good right now, but when I look ahead, I’m feeling rather torn right now,” said Ken Tower, chief market strategist for Schwab’s CyberTrader. “My forecast this year is for a bear market, but for now, I’m willing to give the bulls the benefit of the doubt.”

For now, the market remains intently focused on corporate earnings, but General Motors nonetheless was deemed an exceptional case, given the automaker’s financial struggles. After one-time items, GM posted a quarterly loss of $2.09 per share — far worse than the 16-cents-per-share loss Wall Street had expected. Shares of GM, which lost $8.6 billion for all of 2005, slid 92 cents to $22.93.

Caterpillar, which gained $3.10 to $65.17, helped the market overcome GM’s news after the heavy equipment maker posted a 54 percent jump in fourth-quarter earnings. The company also raised its 2006 profit forecasts.

AT&T Inc., formerly SBC Communications Inc., saw strong growth in its wireless, broadband Internet and business services divisions, beating Wall Street’s quarterly earnings expectations by 3 cents per share. AT&T climbed 30 cents to $25.51.

Telecom rival Verizon Communications Inc. added 30 cents to $31.68 after it said profits fell sharply in the fourth quarter, though a one-time gain a year ago skewed the comparison. The company met analysts’ profit forecasts.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average jumped 1.53 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 closed up 0.32 percent, France’s CAC-40 climbed 1.79 percent for the session and Germany’s DAX index surged 2.24 percent.