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August 22, 2006 > Investor optimism keeps stocks higher despite lagging consumer

Investor optimism keeps stocks higher despite lagging consumer

by Joe Bel Bruno

NEW YORK (AP), Aug 18 _ Investors eked out Wall Street's fifth-straight day of gains Friday, bucking concerns about lagging consumer sentiment and disappointing second-quarter results from Dell Inc.

Trading got off to a shaky start after the University of Michigan released its preliminary consumer sentiment index, which fell to 78.7 in August, down from 84.7 a month earlier. Wall Street had been looking for the index to slide to 83.8, and the greater-than-expected drop was viewed as a signal the economy may weaken too much.

The poor sentiment index threatened to stall the market's rally this week, which came on evidence of lower inflation risk and a gently slowing economy. Yet the market's recovery from its session lows _ aided by a $36 billion stock buyback announced by Microsoft Corp. _ shows investors remain optimistic that the Federal Reserve will keep the economy strong enough to withstand recession while keeping inflation contained.

``If this rally continues on bad economic news, that's saying that investors have already made a decision we're going to have a soft landing in this economy,'' said Alexander Paris, economist and market analyst for Chicago-based Barrington Research.

Technology stocks nevertheless saw pressure after Dell reported second-quarter profit fell 51 percent, with sales growth slowing to the lowest rate in three years. The world's largest computer maker _ already reeling from a massive laptop battery recall earlier in the week _ also disclosed the Securities and Exchange Commission has been investigating its accounting for the past year.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 46.51, or 0.41 percent, to 11,381.47.

Broader stock indicators also made modest gains. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 4.82, or 0.37 percent, to 1,302.30, and the Nasdaq composite index gained 6.34, or 0.29 percent, to 2,163.95.

For the week, the Dow jumped 2.65 percent, the S&P 500 gained 2.81 percent and the Nasdaq surged 5.16 percent.

Bonds pushed toward gains for a fourth straight session, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note falling to 4.84 percent from 4.86 percent late Thursday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.

Oil prices moved higher in trading after tumbling a day earlier on cooling of Middle East tensions. A barrel of light, sweet crude for September delivery settled at $71.14, up $1.08 from Thursday's close, in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Thursday, oil fell as low as $69.60 a barrel _ a level not seen since June 21.

Dell's results cast a shadow over the Nasdaq, with its shares falling 64 cents, or 2.8 percent, to $22.16, while rival Hewlett-Packard, which reported strong earnings earlier this week, added 37 cents to $35.52. Chip suppliers Intel Corp. fell 16 cents to $18.40 and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. fell 27 cents to $23.93.

Gap gave up 65 cents, or 3.8 percent, to $16.65 after reporting a 53 percent drop in second-quarter profit as aggressive markdowns put the squeeze on margins.

Ford, the nation's second-largest auto maker, said it would cut fourth-quarter production by 21 percent to accelerate its turnaround plan. Ford fell 17 cents to $8.

Altria Group Inc. and Reynolds American Inc. shares rose after a judge's ruling held that tobacco companies violated federal racketeering laws, though the judge said she was unable to order financial remedies. Altria gained $3.22, or 4 percent, to $83.97 and Reynolds added 91 cents to $64.98.

Advancers outnumbered decliners by a 3-to-2 basis on the New York Stock Exchange, where final consolidated volume came to 2.1 billion shares, compared to 2.49 billion traded Thursday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 0.90, or 0.13 percent, to 711.68.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average closed up 0.53 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 was up 0.05 percent, Germany's DAX index fell 0.28 percent, and France's CAC-40 dropped 0.18 percent.


The Dow Jones industrials ended the week rose 293.44, or 2.65 percent, finishing at 11,381.47. The S&P 500 index added 35.56, or 2.81 percent, to close at 1,302.30.

The Nasdaq surged 106.24, or 5.16 percent, to end at 2,163.95.

The Russell 2000 index closed the week up 32.64, or 4.81 percent, at 711.68.

The Dow Jones Wilshire 5000 Composite Index _ a free-float weighted index that measures 5,000 U.S. based companies _ ended the week at 13,021.35, up 380.15 points from last week. A year ago the index was 12,167.91.


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