Stocks Surge as Dow and S&P Hit '05 Highs
Fri Feb 25, 5:01 PM ET
By Mark McSherry
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. blue-chip stocks hit new highs for 2005 on Friday after a three-day rally as oil company shares including Exxon Mobil Corp. touched historic peaks amid lofty crude prices and a brokerage upgrade.
Also boosting market sentiment was a government report that showed gross domestic product in the fourth quarter was better than Wall Street had expected.
With crude futures prices approaching $52 a barrel, Prudential Equity Group raised its rating on Exxon Mobil and increased price targets on major oil companies.
Exxon jumped 3.5 percent to $63.26 and ConocoPhillips Co. climbed 1.9 percent to $112.32. Earlier, both stocks hit all-time highs. ChevronTexaco Corp. advanced 1.3 percent to $61.94.
Semiconductor makers Qualcomm Inc. and Intel Corp. helped lift the tech-heavy Nasdaq. Qualcom rose 4.2 percent to $37 and Intel climbed 1.7 percent to $24.09.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 92.81 points, or 0.86 percent, to 10,841.60. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 11.17 points, or 0.93 percent, at 1,211.37. The technology-laced Nasdaq Composite Index finished up 13.70 points, or 0.67 percent, at 2,065.40.
Friday's gains topped a strong three-day recovery for U.S. stocks following a broad sell-off on Tuesday. For the week, the Dow rose 0.52 percent, the S&P 500 edged up 0.81 percent, and Nasdaq climbed 0.33 percent.
Gross domestic product, which measures total goods and services production within U.S. borders, grew at a revised 3.8 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter. Wall Street economists had forecast a 3.7 percent rise.
"GDP being revised up for the fourth quarter shows there is still great vitality out there," said Joseph Battipaglia, chief investment officer for Ryan, Beck & Co.
"The momentum of the last couple of days suggests to investors that despite high energy prices, it is still OK to be buying stocks -- and there is leadership in energy and materials," Battipaglia said.
U.S. crude oil for April delivery settled up 10 cents at $51.49 a barrel, off Thursday's peak of $52.05 -- the highest since Nov. 1. Earlier on Friday, April crude made another run toward $52, rising as high as $51.90 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Rising oil prices usually hurt most stocks because of worries they will pinch corporate profits and curb consumer spending. But oil companies' profits and stock prices climb when crude prices surge.
Soaring energy, metals and grain prices this week carried the Reuters CRB Index above the 300 mark for the first time since the last commodities boom was ending in early 1981.
The CRB index of 17 evenly weighted commodity futures is considered a benchmark gauge of inflation and demand for raw materials. It is watched closely by economists and investors.
Friday's trading in stocks was active, with 1.52 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, above last year's daily average of 1.46 billion. About 1.77 billion shares were traded on Nasdaq, just below last year's 1.81 billion daily average.
Advancers outnumbered decliners by more than 3-to-1 on the NYSE and by about 2-to-1 on Nasdaq.
In corporate news, MCI Inc. Chief Executive Michael Capellas said the company would "do our utmost" to close a $6.75 billion deal with Verizon Communications Inc. in a timely fashion.
CI also reported a fourth-quarter net loss and said there was no exact estimate for how much time its board would need to review a revised $8 billion offer from Qwest Communications International Inc. MCI fell 1 percent to $22.60, Qwest slumped 8 percent to $3.86 and Verizon climbed 2 percent to $36.20.
Clear Channel Communications Inc. fell 3.4 percent to $32.75 after the largest U.S. radio station chain posted a quarterly net loss after a $4.9 billion charge to write down the value of its radio licenses.
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