IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Stocks surge, led by strong blue chip gains

Stocks rose sharply Thursday, led by strong gains among the blue chips and mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp., which said it had lined up added financing.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Stocks rose sharply Thursday, led by strong gains among the blue chips and mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp., which said it had lined up added financing.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose by more than 130 points on strong advances by General Motors Corp. and McDonald’s Corp., which hit an all-time high. Financial stocks such as Countrywide also jumped, while bond prices fell.

Investors, who have been nervous about the impact of sinking housing and credit markets on the economy, were relieved to hear Countrywide secured $12 billion in credit. The additional financing alleviated concerns the nation’s largest mortgage lender might collapse because of spiking defaults.

Also buoying the mood on Wall Street, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said he may agree to a trust fund for employee health care costs that would be run by the union, The Wall Street Journal reported. GM, which Citigroup upgraded to a “Buy” from a “Sell,” jumped sharply on the news; Ford Motor Co. also advanced.

“It appears that this credit crunch may not be as bad as some people thought,” said Charles Norton, principal and portfolio manager at GNICapital, crediting the Countrywide news with lifting overall investor sentiment.

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow rose 133.23, or 1.00 percent, to 13,424.88.

Broader stock indicators also advanced. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 12.39, or 0.84 percent, to 1,483.95, and the technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index rose 8.99, or 0.35 percent, to 2,601.06.

Government bond prices fell sharply as stocks advanced and investors grew more confident they could move out of the safest bets. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 4.48 percent from 4.41 percent late Wednesday.

“Some other financings have been done. There have been some corporate bond issues,” Norton said, listing some of the reasons beyond the Countrywide news for a “slight easing” in unease about credit.

While he expects further signs of credit distress could emerge, he said much of the difficulty in the credit markets could ease as fear dissipates.

“A lot of this has to do with psychology,” Norton said. “When you see some stabilization, it gives people more confidence to lend.”

Wall Street seemed to shrug off a record close in crude oil prices, which edged up 18 cents to $80.09 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was the first time oil closed above $80.

Gold prices fell as the U.S. dollar came off an all-time low against the euro on Thursday. The 13-nation currency rose again amid expectations for a U.S. interest rate cut.

Economic news lifted investor sentiment as well. The Labor Department reported claims for unemployment benefits rose by 4,000 last week to 319,000 — the sixth increase in seven weeks — but less than the 325,000 claims analysts expected. Low unemployment, at 4.6 percent, has been one of the economy’s strengths.

The rise in jobless claims follows last week’s reading on August payrolls, which declined for the first time in four years and sent stocks plummeting amid worries that credit tightness and market turmoil had hit the labor market. But Thursday’s report appeared to assuage some concerns.

On Wednesday, investors had refrained from major moves ahead of Tuesday’s meeting of the Federal Reserve; Wall Street has grown more confident the Fed will cut its benchmark federal funds rate. But with Thursday’s slew of good news, investors snapped up stocks, which got pummeled nearly a week ago after the Labor Department came out with a disappointing jobs report.

Countrywide rose $2.31, or 14 percent, to $18.93 after the company added to its borrowing capacity. The move comes after Countrywide borrowed $11.5 billion and sold a $2 billion stake to Bank of America in recent weeks to keep its retail banking and mortgage businesses running.

The news helped lift the financial sector, which has struggled because of anxiety about the credit markets. Bear Stearns & Cos., Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs rose about 3 percent, and Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers rose about 5 percent.

Wall Street also applauded apparent progress in Detroit over health care costs for autoworkers. GM rose $3.04, or 10.1 percent, to $33.29, while Ford rose 42 cents, or 5.6 percent, to $7.92.

McDonald’s advanced $3.10, or 6.1 percent, to $54.30 after increasing its dividend 50 percent a day after reporting stronger-than-expected sales for August.

“Whereas U.S. growth may be dented and it may skate near or into a recession it’s not going to have a major impact on world growth,” said John Merrill, chief investment officer of Tanglewood Capital Management in Houston.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to a light 1.27 billion shares compared with volume of 1.29 billion traded Wednesday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 2.45, or 0.31 percent, 780.35.