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Stocks continue rally — Dow closes up 180-plus

Stocks continued their rally, ending Wednesday trading up after an upbeat employment report from payroll company ADP made investors somewhat optimistic.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Wall Street soared for the second straight day Wednesday, rallying in the last hour of trading after a rebound in financial stocks and optimism about private sector jobs.

Investors brushed off a sharp jump in oil prices. The Dow Jones industrials rose more than 180 points, bringing its two-day gain to more than 450.

Bank and brokerage stocks, many trading at multiyear lows, turned higher and led the late advance. There was some relief in the market after the Federal Reserve said it would extend and expand its program to lend money to investment banks. The central bank’s move reassured the market that the banks would have cash if they needed it.

Investors have been worried that some of Wall Street’s biggest names will be slashing prices on more of their assets — and needing more money — after Merrill Lynch & Co. unexpectedly announced a $5.7 billion write-down late Monday.

“There’s a growing sense that what we saw out of Merrill Lynch is the beginning of the end for the financial cleanup,” said Craig Peckham, market strategist at Jefferies & Co. He added that the ADP number was also a good sign for the economy.

Earlier, Automatic Data Processing said private sector employment rose by 9,000 this month. After seeing jobs disappear by the thousands in recent months, the stock market is eager for any insights into the Labor Department’s take on the job market on Friday.

The ADP news helped offset a big spike in the price of oil after a weekly Energy Department report on domestic supplies showed a surprise increase. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s announcement that he plans to resign in September stirred concerns about the viability of Middle East peace efforts and rising tensions with Iran.

Light, sweet crude rose $4.58 to settle at $126.77 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil has fallen sharply, however, since hitting a high above $147 on July 11. A drop in oil prices Tuesday contributed to a huge gain on Wall Street.

The late rally may also have been due to technical trading; in times of great volatility, many institutional investors start adjusting their holdings before the closing bell.

The Dow rose 186.13, or 1.63 percent, to 11,583.69. On Tuesday, the blue chips jumped 266 points, more than wiping out a nearly 240-point loss from the previous session.

Broader stock indicators also surged. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index advanced 21.06, or 1.67 percent, to 1,284.26, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 10.10, or 0.44 percent, to 2,329.72.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to 5.06 billion shares from 5.11 billion in the previous session.

Bond prices fell as stocks advanced, diminishing demand for the safety of government debt. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 4.05 percent from 4.04 percent late Tuesday.

The dollar was higher against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.

Shares of Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. climbed more than 5 percent, while Citigroup Inc. and Merrill Lynch rose about 2 percent.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-chartered mortgage companies which together hold or back nearly half of all U.S. mortgage debt, also rose on news of the Fed’s latest moves. Fannie Mae advanced 45 cents, or 3.9 percent, to $12.05, while Freddie Mac rose 6 cents to $8.48.

Wall Street has been juggling a number of intertwined worries in recent months as it tries to determine where the economy is headed. There is continued concern about bad mortgage debt that many banks are holding because homeowners swept up in the pullback in the housing market are missing mortgage payments.

And the rapid rise in oil and other commodity prices this year has only made it harder for many consumers to keep up with their bills. Any sign of an easing in the credit and housing markets, or a drop in energy prices, offers some investors hope that the economy could begin to recover.

Investors are anxious for the government’s advance reading on second quarter gross domestic product, which is due Thursday. Economists expect that, while it might not feel like it to many consumers, the economy is still eking out growth. A good chunk of it may be due to government tax rebates.

In earnings news, Starbucks Corp. said costs related to its closure of 600 underperforming stores led it to post a loss in its fiscal third quarter. However, it matched Wall Street projections.

The Walt Disney Co. said third-quarter profits surged nearly 9 percent thanks to revenue growth at ESPN and strong results from its theme park near Paris, where the weak U.S. dollar was helpful.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 4.31, or 0.60 percent, to 718.86.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 1.58 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 jumped 1.91 percent, Germany’s DAX index advanced 0.96 percent, and France’s CAC-40 jumped 1.85 percent.