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Solid gains cap strong week for stocks

Stocks rose soundly Friday, capping a strong week for Wall Street, as investors drew confidence from strong results at Oracle Corp. and a continued sense that lower interest rates should help bolster the economy.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Stocks rose soundly Friday, capping a strong week for Wall Street, as investors drew confidence from strong results at Oracle Corp. and a continued sense that lower interest rates should help bolster the economy.

Oracle's report that quarterly profits rose 25 percent as sales grew at their fastest pace in seven years offered fresh evidence that some sectors of the economy continue to hum along even as areas such as housing cause consternation for many investors.

Wall Street found renewed optimism this week after the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates a larger-than-expected one-half percentage point Tuesday. The central bank also lowered the rate it charges to lend directly to banks by the same amount.

"As much as we often underestimate the depth of our problems it's also natural for us to underestimate the depth and robustness of our economy. There are many industry segments that are very healthy," said Robert Brown, chief investment officer at Genworth Financial Asset Management, pointing to stronger-than-expected earnings reports. He contended while Wall Street's exuberance over the Fed's rate cuts is understandable, some investors are blithely looking past some of the concerns the economy faces.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 53.49, or 0.39 percent, to 13,820.19.

Broader stock indicators also rose. The Standard & Poor's 500 index advanced 7.00, or 0.46 percent, to 1,525.75, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 16.93, or 0.64 percent, to 2,671.22.

For the week, the Dow was up 2.8 percent, while the S&P 500 index added 2.8 percent. It was the strongest weekly showing for the indexes since March. Nasdaq rose 2.7 percent, its best weekly gain since last month.

Friday's session brought "triple-witching," a once-a-quarter occurrence when investors face simultaneous expiration of contracts for stock index futures, index options and stock options. Such days often bring higher-than-normal volume as investors jockey for new positions, although analysts noted Friday's volume wasn't as heavy as might have been expected.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners about 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to 3.67 billion shares, compared with 2.96 billion shares traded Thursday.

Bonds rose, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note falling to 4.63 percent from Thursday's close of 4.69 percent. Treasurys had sold off in recent sessions amid concerns about the possibility of increasing inflation and the prospect of Saudi Arabia lightening its U.S. government holdings. The gains on Wall Street have also drained some money out of the bond market.

Brown contends the stock and bond markets have diverged and that the equity market is regarding the Fed's rate cut as providing adequate liquidity to propel stocks to new highs.

"These rates cuts are not turning bad debt into good debt. And this rate cut is not changing the housing debacle's impact on slowing economic growth. There is no question that the effect is potent, that we will incur significantly slower economic growth and the probability of a recession is now great. Their actions are honestly not having any impact on that probability," he said of the Fed.

Noman Ali, portfolio manager with MFC Global Investment Management, said Friday's advance in part reflected a renewed sense of enthusiasm from the Fed's rate cuts. He said Wall Street was relieved, too, that some of the major brokerages reporting results this week didn't fare worse during the quarter given the recent upheaval in the credit markets.

Ali also said inflation readings during the week, such as the consumer price index, didn't show unnerving increases in prices.

"We expect another rate cut in October because inflation is still not an issue," he said, noting the economy seemed to be absorbing higher food prices and oil prices at record levels.

Crude oil futures for November delivery fell 16 cents to settle at $81.61 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Thursday, the October contract, now expired, closed at an all-time high above $83 a barrel.

Ali noted investors next week will be looking for profit forecasts as it is the final week of the quarter.

Gold prices rose Friday, while the dollar bounced back after hitting another record low against the euro, which surpassed $1.41 for the first time. The dollar slumped against other major currencies.

With no major economic reports, Wall Street looked to corporate news.

Oracle rose 93 cents, or 4.4 percent, to $21.98 following its earnings report.

Harman International Industries Inc. closed down $27.25, or 24 percent, at $85 after the maker of upscale audio equipment confirmed reports that two private equity firms backed out of an $8 billion buyout deal to acquire the company.

Meanwhile, cosmetics maker Estee Lauder Cos. advanced $1.95, or 4.8 percent, to $42.58 amid takeover rumors. And Joy Global Inc. rose 91 cents to $49.59 after the mining equipment company affirmed its full-year earnings and revenue forecasts.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 3.35, or 0.41 percent, to 813.11.

In trading abroad, Britain's FTSE 100 finished up 0.43 percent, Germany's DAX index rose 0.77 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 0.21 percent. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei index closed down 0.62 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index rose 0.56 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average ended the week up 377.67, or 2.81 percent, at 13,820.19. The Standard & Poor's 500 index finished up 41.50, or 2.80 percent, at 1,525.75. The Nasdaq composite index ended up 69.04, or 2.65 percent, at 2,671.22.

The Russell 2000 index finished the week up 37.30, or 2.80 percent, at 813.11.

The Dow Jones Wilshire 5000 Composite Index _ a free-float weighted index that measures 5,000 U.S. based companies _ ended Friday at 15,338.93, up 411.33, or 2.76 percent, for the week. A year ago, the index was at 13,186.04.