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Dow closes up 100 before Fed meeting

Wall Street advanced Monday, as expectations for an interest rate cut and an uptick in pending home sales helped offset concerns about more subprime mortgage-related losses.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Wall Street advanced Monday as expectations for an interest rate cut from the Federal Reserve and an uptick in pending home sales helped offset concerns about another round of subprime mortgage-related losses. The Dow Jones industrials gained more than 100 points.

Investors remained upbeat ahead of the Fed's rate-setting meeting on Tuesday. Policymakers are broadly expected to lower rates, though economists are still split over whether there will be a quarter-point cut or half-point cut.

The National Association of Realtors gave Wall Street reason to be optimistic Monday when it said its forward-looking index of U.S. home sales rose in October for the second month in a row. Though investors still expect the housing market to remain weak well into 2008, the association is forecasting sales and prices to start recovering modestly next year.

The downturn in housing has led to huge losses among banks that invested in securities backed by mortgages, and on Monday, UBS revealed large writedowns. The Swiss bank said it will write down some $10 billion of subprime mortgage holdings, which could lead to full-year losses. However, its U.S. shares rose $1.10, or 2.2 percent, to $51.58 after the bank unveiled plans for an $11.5 billion cash infusion from the government of Singapore and an unidentified Middle Eastern investor.

"The financial stocks are leading the way higher because of the UBS news," said Donald Selkin, director of equity research at Joseph Stevens. "There is optimism today that we have seen the worst in the financial sector. There is a feeling that these stocks have already discounted the worst case scenario."

The announcement from UBS comes ahead of fourth-quarter earnings from the top U.S. investment banks. Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. will release results Thursday, while Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and Bear Stearns Cos. are scheduled to report next week.

After the closing bell, Washington Mutual Inc. said it will record a $1.6 billion writedown on its home loans business as it announced plans to discontinue all subprime mortgage lending and eliminate 2,600 positions in the home loans segment. The nation's largest savings and loan now expects a loss in the fourth quarter due to the writedown.

The Dow rose 101.45, or 0.74 percent, to 13,727.03.

Broader stock indicators also rose. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 11.30, or 0.75 percent, to 1,515.96. The Nasdaq composite index added 12.79, or 0.47 percent, to 2,718.95.

Bond prices fell. The 10-year Treasury note's yield, which moves opposite the price, rose to 4.16 percent from 4.12 percent late Friday.

The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, and gold prices rose.

Wall Street has posted robust gains recently as investors grew more confident in the Fed's openness to loosening its policy again. The Dow has risen more than 740 points over the last two weeks, a rally that has brought the blue-chip index to about 3 percent below the record close it reached Oct. 9.

WaMu's shares shed $1.73, or 8.7 percent, to $18.15 in after-hours activity, after the stock rose 85 cents, or 4.5 percent, to close at $19.88.

Blackstone Group LP might be planning a bid to acquire steel company Rio Tinto Ltd., according to Britain's Daily Telegraph. Blackstone would lead a consortium that would include China's sovereign wealth fund, according to the report. Blackstone rose $1.52, or 6.9 percent, to $23.45, and Rio Tinto rose $9.71, or 2.1 percent, to $477.71.

McDonald's Corp., the world's largest fast-food company, said global same-store sales rose 8.2 percent in November. Much of the strength came from overseas, including Europe and Asia. McDonald's, one of the 30 Dow components, rose $1.74, or 2.9 percent, to $61.90.

Shares of Dow component Caterpillar Inc. advanced after a Bear Stearns analyst highlighted the construction and farm equipment maker's focus on China, where the construction market is expected to keep surging. The stock rose $2.38, or 3.2 percent, to $76.58.

Oil prices were volatile amid end-of-year position taking and anticipation of Tuesday's Fed meeting. Light, sweet crude reversed course to close down 42 cents to $87.86 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 5.68, or 0.72 percent, to 791.22.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by slightly less than 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated volume came to 2.81 billion shares, compared with 2.88 billion shares on Friday.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average closed down 0.20 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 1.18 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.16 percent, Germany's DAX index rose 0.49 percent, and France's CAC-40 increased 0.56 percent.