Stocks higher on consumer confidence gain

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

NEW YORK -- A rebound in consumer confidence and more healing in the housing industry have put stocks back on an upward path.

Banks, retailers and homebuilders were Tuesday's biggest winners, helping to lift the major indexes about 0.3 percent. Energy and utility stocks fell sharply, and limited the overall market's advance, as oil prices cooled following a recent surge.

The Dow Jones industrials have been able to carve out a gain of nearly 404 points, or 4.4 percent, in just six sessions.

"The upward trend has still not broken," said Brian Daley, sales trader at Conifer Securities. "It's too dangerous to fight the trend in the market, even though clearly a lot of people are nervous that it's too extended."

Stocks rose after the Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index jumped to 54.1 this month from an upwardly revised 47.4 in July. That was far above the 47.5 reading analysts expected. But the report is a long way from showing that consumers are actually feeling optimistic about the economy amid ongoing worries about job losses.

But it does suggest pessimism about the economy is abating.

Meanwhile, the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index rose 1.4 percent in the second quarter from the January-March period, the first quarterly increase in three years. Home prices, while still down almost 15 percent from last year, are at levels last seen in early 2003.

The improvements in consumer confidence and housing are related. If consumers are feeling better about the economy, they will be willing to spend a little more on houses, not to mention cars, appliances and other goods and materials. Investors' concerns about flagging consumer confidence have triggered bouts of stock selling in recent weeks.

Stocks also got a boost from President Barack Obama's reappointment of Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman. Bernanke's reappointment, though expected, came sooner than anticipated and removed any uncertainty about a potential replacement.

The Dow rose 30.01, or 0.3 percent, to 9,539.29. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 2.43, or 0.2 percent, to 1,028.00, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 6.25, or 0.3 percent, to 2,024.23.

About three stocks rose for every two that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to 5.74 billion shares, down from Monday's 6.32 billion.

In other trading, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 2.98, or 0.5 percent, to 583.22.

Energy-related stocks fell after oil prices tumbled $2.32 to $72.02 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prior to trading Tuesday, prices had climbed 8.1 percent in just 5 days. Halliburton Co. fell 76 cents, or 3 percent, to $24.52. Chesapeake Energy Corp. lost 59 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $23.35.

The market's moderate advance on Tuesday, which came after stocks finished little changed the day before, follows a trend seen throughout the summer, where any dip in stocks or pause in trading is met with more buying as investors fear missing out on an extended rally.

"It's still a trader's market," said Steven Stahler, president of The Stahler Group. "You've got a lot of activity ... but not real legs."

Analysts expect the market to be volatile through at least the end of the summer, especially with volume and news flow fairly light, as is typical of trading in August.

Homebuilders posted some of the biggest gains Tuesday after the home price data. Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. jumped 6.5 percent, adding 28 cents to $4.57, while Lennar Corp. rose 40 cents, or 2.8 percent, to $14.97.

Financial stocks rebounded after sagging on Monday in response to an analyst's downbeat report. Bank of America Corp. rose 40 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $17.75. Retailers also rose. Shares of Big Lots Inc. soared more than 6 percent, rising $1.57 to $25.60 after its second-quarter results beat analysts' expectations and the discount retailer raised its full-year earnings forecast.

Bond prices came off earlier lows and moved slightly higher after an auction of $42 billion in two-year notes was met with adequate demand. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 3.44 percent from 3.48 percent late Monday. The yield on the two-year note slipped to 1.02 percent from 1.03 percent.

The dollar was mostly lower against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

The gains in the U.S. came amid mixed trading in overseas markets. Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 0.8 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.4 percent, Germany's DAX index rose 0.7 percent, and France's CAC-40 gained 0.8 percent.

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