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Dow chalks up a new record near 12,000

/ Source: The Associated Press

Wall Street extended its record-setting advance Monday, sending the Dow Jones industrial average within a whisper of the psychologically-key 12,000 mark, as investors grew more optimistic that corporate profits will remain robust amid a slowing economy.

The blue chip index came within 3 points of reaching the milestone for the first time before falling back minutes before the close; it still managed a record high finish, its seventh in two weeks. A deluge of earnings reports, including 12 from Dow component companies slated this week, could make or break the Dow’s three-week run at record levels.

The Dow Jones industrial average finished the day up 20.09 points, or 0.17 percent, having hit a record intraday high of 11,997.25 in the final hour of trading. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index rose 3.43 points, or 0.25 percent, while the Nasdaq composite index added 6.55 points, or 0.28 percent.

“From a Dow perspective, in a market environment where there is uncertainty, people are arguing at what pace and severity the economy is slowing,” said J. Michael Barron, chief executive of Knott Capital. “Those are markets where traditional, big cap stocks tend to outperform. I think the underlying reason the Dow is moving higher is that people are uncertain as to what’s happening right now, and the safer bet is to go with global brands.”

Investors will have a number of global companies to scrutinize this week. Among them are Citigroup Inc., 3M Co., Intel Corp. and International Business Machines Corp.

So far, early indications of how companies have fared during the third quarter have been mixed. Wachovia Corp.’s reported profit rose 13 percent, but revenue missed projections. Toy maker Mattel Inc. topped Wall Street projections, while Charles Schwab Corp. posted a strong profit on lighter-than-expected revenue.

Bonds rose, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note dipping to 4.78 percent from 4.80 percent on Friday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

Monday’s advance came despite a sharp rise in energy prices, with natural gas having its biggest rise since July. Light, sweet crude closed up $1.37 at $59.94 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

There was little reaction after St. Louis Federal Reserve President William Poole said in a speech that “draconian” action won’t be needed to control the economy if inflation ebbs. Wall Street was also relieved Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke stayed away from the economy in a speech Monday, and instead spoke on regulatory burdens in efforts to battle terrorist financing.

UnitedHealth Group Inc. fell after it reported Sunday that Chief Executive William McGuire will leave the company by Dec. 1 under scrutiny over backdated stock options. The nation’s second-largest health insurer faced an independent report that found widespread problems with the way the insurer issued stock options. Shares fell $1.21, or 2.2 percent, to $55.25.

Military and commercial vehicle maker Oshkosh Truck Corp. announced it would acquire JLG Industries Inc., a maker of aerial work platforms and booms, for about $3 billion in cash. Oshkosh fell $3.05, or 5.5 percent, at $52.49, while JLG surged $6.81, or 32.8 percent, to $27.56.

Wachovia said stronger interest and fee income helped fuel profit during the third quarter, despite a challenging interest rate environment. Profit was in line with projections from analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial, but revenue missed expectations.

Its shares fell $1.22, or 2.2 percent, to $54.25.

Mattel said strong sales of Fisher-Price products helped third-quarter profit rise 6 percent to top Wall Street expectations. Mattel added 60 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $21.30.

Charles Schwab Corp., the nation’s largest discount brokerage, reported quarterly profit surged 29 percent from a year ago on a rise in revenue from financial services products. However, the company’s overall revenue came up lighter than expected. Its shares fell 46 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $17.10.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average closed up 0.94 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 closed up 0.25 percent, Germany’s DAX index added 0.21 percent and France’s CAC-40 rose 0.16 percent.