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Stocks Hit 3-1/2-Year Highs on Jobs Jump
Fri Mar 4, 2005 04:48 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. blue-chip stocks surged to their highest close in more than 3-1/2 years on Friday after a better-than-expected jobs report boosted optimism about the economy but didn't raise worries about accelerated interest-rate hikes.

The Dow closed at its highest level since June 2001, putting it back in sight of the psychologically important 11,000 mark, while the S&P 500 closed at its highest since July 2001.

Interest-rate sensitive stocks such as financials gained as fears were eased about aggressive rate increases. Citigroup Inc. was up nearly 1 percent, or 43 cents, at $48.40, and JP Morgan Chase and Co. was up 1.4 percent, or 50 cents, at $37.51.

High interest rates weigh on stocks as they increase the cost of borrowing for companies, and are particularly bad for financial services companies because they slow the lending volume while raising the cost of acquiring funds.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 107.52 points, or 0.99 percent, to end at 10,940.55. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 11.65 points, or 0.96 percent, to finish at 1,222.12. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 12.21 points, or 0.59 percent, to close at 2,070.61.

Only three of the 30 Dow stocks closed lower.

"The catalyst for the rally today is the payroll report," said Brian Pears, head of equity trading at Victory Capital Management. "I think that most traders thought the economy was in relatively good shape, but this gives us an inkling that the economy is even stronger than we thought."

For the week, the Dow was up 0.91 percent, the S&P 500 rose 0.89 percent, and the Nasdaq was up 0.25 percent.

Strategists had been hoping the jobs report would be robust enough to push the Dow and the S&P 500 through closing highs carved out in December.

"For the last few weeks, we've been in a pretty flat trading range," Pears said. "But the longer you go sideways, the more likely it is that when you break out, there'll be some kind of dramatic move -- so you could look at this as pent-up buying demand from a market that really couldn't make any progress for a few weeks."

February's jobs creation of 262,000 was the biggest gain in four months, the Labor Department said. The jobs gain boosted sentiment about the economy, while inflationary worries were soothed by a static hourly earnings rate.

Source: Reuters

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