Market takes heart from report on GDP

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NEW YORK -- Wall Street rallied for a second straight session yesterday after the government's latest gross domestic product reading showed the economy was in better shape than expected, easing concerns that growth was moderating too sharply. The Dow Jones industrials rose 90 points.

Investors were upbeat after a series of reports, including GDP, pointed to the likelihood of an economic soft landing after more than two years of interest rate increases that ended in June. Major stock indexes held on to gains throughout the session even as oil prices moved to their highest levels in two months.

Providing ballast was the Commerce Department's report that GDP expanded at a 2.2 percent annual rate, topping its previous estimate of 1.6 percent and economists' projections for a 1.8 percent gain. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve said in its beige book report that most areas of the United States had moderate economic growth in the first few weeks of November as consumer spending grew.

Wall Street appears to be in a consolidation phase after its big rally the past two months. The fact that it has rebounded and didn't extend Monday's plunge, when the Dow fell 158 points, indicates many investors want to keep buying although they're watching closely for any signs of economic trouble.

"The most recent data confirms the basic picture we've seen for some months is that it looks like we're heading toward a soft landing, inflationary pressure is easing, and that the housing market hasn't collapsed as some feared," said Ed Keon, chief investment strategist with Prudential Equity Group. "Soft landings, when we've had them, are great for stocks."

The Dow rose 90.28 to 12,226.73. The Dow rose 14.74 Tuesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 12.76 at 1,399.48, and the Nasdaq composite index added 19.62 to 2,432.23.

The pair of economic reports also indicated the housing slump hasn't been too much of a drag on the economy, and offset a Commerce Department report released yesterday that showed new home sales in October suffered their largest drop since July.

Another beneficiary of the healthy economic snapshot was the dollar, which rebounded from a 20-month low against the euro but was mixed against other major currencies. Gold prices moved higher.

Data that suggest the Fed is keeping a handle on the economy rattled the fixed-income markets. Bonds declined, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note higher at 4.52 percent from 4.51 percent late Tuesday. Signs of economic strength keep pressure on policy makers to continue lifting interest rates.

All of this economic news came one day after Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said U.S. growth would pick up next year. He said Fed policymakers, who meet again Dec. 12, would not hesitate to raise interest rates further if inflation remained a risk.

"The comments by Bernanke were really to help keep the dollar up there," said Alexander Paris, president of Chicago-based Barrington Research. "Really, the dollar has been the most disturbing factor out there since it began to fall last Friday."

Leading stocks higher were energy companies, which advanced after weekly supply data showed U.S. inventories fell more than expected. This pushed a barrel of light sweet crude up $1.47 to $62.46 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Exxon Mobil Corp. rose $1.87, or 2.5 percent, to $76.03. However, transport stocks fell on the potential for higher fuel. Trucking company Ryder Systems Inc. fell $1.16, or 2.2 percent, to $52.73.

Jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co. helped lead the S&P 500 after it said third-quarter profit grew a stronger than expected 23 percent as U.S. customers increased spending. The luxury goods retailer also raised fiscal 2006 guidance. Shares of the company surged $2.29, or 6.4 percent, to $38.22.

Pfizer Inc., the world's largest drug maker, fell 2 cents to $27.07 after it announced plans to cut 20 percent of its U.S. sales force, or about 2,200 jobs. The move is part of a cost-cutting program to transform the company into a more nimble organization as it struggles with sluggish sales.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was up 9.34, or 1.21 percent, at 784.16.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by almost 3 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to 2.79 billion shares vs. 2.67 billion at the same point Tuesday.


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