Stocks Post Modest Gains

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Stocks rose broadly but moderately Wednesday, building on Tuesday's big advance, which followed the Federal Reserve's latest signal that it may be nearing the end of its credit-tightening campaign.

Tuesday's rally got the market off to a strong start for the year, but on Wednesday, mixed economic news and another gain in oil prices tempered some of that enthusiasm.

A third month of disappointing sales from U.S. automakers added to the sense that consumer spending may be slowing, analysts said.

And in commodities trading, crude oil futures ended at their highest level since mid-October, rising 28 cents to $63.42 a barrel in New York.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average finished up 32.74 points, or 0.3%, at 10,880.15. The index had surged 129.91 points, or 1.2%, on Tuesday after the minutes of the Fed's Dec. 13 meeting were released. The minutes said policymakers anticipated that the number of additional interest rate increases "probably would not be large."

Among broader indexes, the Standard & Poor's 500 rose 4.66 points, or 0.4%, to 1,273.46 on Wednesday, a 4 1/2 -year high. The Nasdaq composite gained 19.72 points, or 0.9%, to 2,263.46.

Winners topped losers by more than 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange and by 3 to 2 on Nasdaq in heavy trading. The NYSE composite index hit a second consecutive record high.

Long-term bonds were little changed, with the 10-year Treasury note yield slipping to 4.35% from 4.36% on Tuesday. The dollar was lower against the yen and the euro and hit a 14-year low against the Canadian dollar.

Some investors and traders continued to pile into gold, lifting near-term futures in New York by $3.20 to $533.90 an ounce, a 24-year high.

The day's economic news was mixed. Although November orders to U.S. factories posted their biggest gain in three months, the increase came entirely from higher demand for commercial aircraft. Excluding transportation, orders were essentially unchanged in November, the fourth month of the last five that this broad category of the economy's health either fell or was flat.

Some analysts are worried that the Fed might already have set the stage for a sharper economic slowdown than the stock market would like. But for now, the bulls are in control.

In other highlights Wednesday:

* Mining stocks were among the day's leaders. Copper giant Phelps Dodge soared $6.07 to $155.40 after contract workers at Chile's state-owned Codelco, the world's biggest producer of the metal, went on strike -- sending copper prices to a record high. Other big gainers in the mining sector included Rio Tinto, up $2.67 to $191.48, and Southern Copper, up $5.23 to $74.59.

* Analyst upgrades helped ExxonMobil and Google. Banc of America upgraded ExxonMobil to "buy" from "neutral," and the stock inched up 10 cents to $58.57. Bear Stearns raised Google to "outperform" from "peer perform" and put a price target of $550 on the stock. Google surged $10.01 to a record $445.24.

* Hewlett-Packard rose 84 cents to $29.61. The world's second-largest maker of personal computers introduced a big-screen digital TV with a wireless connection, as well as seven cameras and a line of PCs with more capacity for music and media.

* Insurer Aetna said John W. Rowe would step down as chief executive next month, and it named President Ronald A. Williams to replace him. Aetna rose 36 cents to $94.42.

* Lowe's, the No. 2 home improvement retailer, slid 83 cents, or 1.2%, to $66.24. JPMorgan analysts cut the shares to "neutral" from "overweight," citing a slowdown in sales of previously owned homes. Housing purchases affect sales at stores open at least a year for Lowe's and larger rival Home Depot six to nine months later, JPMorgan said. Home Depot fell 76 cents, or 1.8%, to $40.48.

* Many foreign markets continued to surge. Mexico's main index gained 0.9% to a record 18,669.23. Japan's Nikkei 225 jumped 1.6% to a five-year high of 16,361.54.

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