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Earnings optimism lifts Wall Street

Investors’ growing optimism carried Wall Street’s rally into a new week Monday, with stocks gathering momentum and surging higher late in the session despite an absence of any market-moving news.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Investors’ growing optimism carried Wall Street’s rally into a new week Monday, with stocks gathering momentum and surging higher late in the session despite an absence of any market-moving news.

Many investors opted for blue chips and technology stocks over small-caps, although the latter rallied with the rest of the market by day’s end. Interest rate-sensitive sectors, including banking and construction, fell on fears that last week’s strong employment figures could signal sooner-than-expected rate hikes from the Federal Reserve.

Despite those concerns, the major indexes continued to recover from March’s correction. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 87.78 points, or 0.8 percent, to 10,558.37, after rising 2.5 percent last week. The index last closed above that level on March 5.

Broader stock indices also rose. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index rose 8.76 points, or 0.8 percent, to 1,150.57, also its best close since March 5. The gain followed a 3.1 percent rise last week.

The Nasdaq composite index, full of technology stocks, was up 21.95 points, or 1.1 percent, at 2,079.12 by the close — its highest level since Feb. 17. Last week, the Nasdaq climbed 5 percent.

There was no major news to influence trading, but that didn’t matter to investors. Wall Street was coming off its best week of 2004, fueled by government reports that showed the economy created 308,000 jobs in March. The reading helped the markets move back into positive territory for the year.

“The jobs data last Friday has provided the missing ingredient that many people have been looking for over the last several months,” said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist at Spencer Clarke LLC.

“We might be a little oversold in the short term, but I think investors are encouraged by the bounceback in the markets over the past few weeks,” he added.

However, some investors remained concerned that if job growth remains at a high level, it could spur the Fed to raise interest rates earlier than expected to ensure that the current economic recovery doesn’t fall victim to inflation.

“It’s not a question of when the Fed will raise rates — of course they will,” said John Caldwell, chief investment strategist for KeyBanc Capital Markets Financial Group.

“The more important question is, should they be raising rates sooner rather than later? The longer they wait, they more they may feel they have to act more aggressively,” added Caldwell.

Despite these concerns, investors were generally upbeat about earnings season, expected to start Tuesday with an announcement from industrial giant Alcoa Inc.

Analysts said the number of positive pre-earnings reports have been much higher than in recent quarters, giving investors hope that overall earnings will remain positive. Alcoa was down a penny at $35.89.

Altria Group Inc. subsidiary Philip Morris will pay up to $1 billion to settle charges brought by the European Union that the cigarette maker of complicity in cigarette smuggling. Altria rose 42 cents to $55.29.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. rose 7 cents to $34.90 after it announced it was selling its Eckerd drugstore chain to CVS Corp. and Canada’s Jean Coutu Group for more than $4.5 billion. CVS jumped $2.57 to $37.35.

Boeing Co. rose 70 cents to $42.54 after the U.S. Air Force announced the aerospace company would be allowed to bid on up to $5 billion in rocket contracts.

Nortel Networks Corp. said it received a formal order of investigation from the Securities and Exchange Commission into the network equipment maker’s financial statements. Nortel dropped 23 cents to $6.06.

On the economic front, news shortly after the open of better-than-expected growth in the massive U.S. services sector helped Wall Street to rise.

The Institute for Supply Management said its non-manufacturing index surged to 65.8 in March from 60.8 in February, hitting a record high. Most economists had forecast a rise to 61.5 (a number above 50 indicates growth).

“These numbers add further corroboration to the idea that this economy is indeed picking up,” Maury Harris, chief U.S. Economist at UBS Investment Research, told CNBC.

Declining issues narrowly outnumbered advancers on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.40 billion shares, compared to 1.62 billion at the same point Friday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 2.94 points, or 0.5 percent, to 606.39.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei average rose 1.2 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 added 0.3 percent for the session, France’s CAC-40 rose 1.1 percent, and Germany’s DAX index gained 1.0 percent in late trading.