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Sun, Mar 21, 2010 - Page 10 News List

US stocks may pause after pursuing 18-month highs

‘A PAUSE TO REFRESH’US indexes posted weekly gains after the Fed held the federal funds rate low despite slight signs of economic improvement


US stocks hit the highest level in more than a year the past week, buoyed by strong company earnings and a central bank decision to maintain ultra-low interest rates, but some analysts expect a pause in the rally before any upward movement.

For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 117 points (1.1 percent) to finish at 10,741.98 on Friday, snapping an eight-­session rally that had brought the blue-chip index to an almost 18-month high.

The broad S&P 500 index was up almost 10 points (0.8 percent) to 1,159.90 and the tech-rich NASDAQ rose 6.0 points (0.2 percent) to 2,374.41.

Most of the gains were made after the Federal Reserve maintained the benchmark federal funds rate at a record-low zero to 0.25 percent range despite slight improvements in the economy.

Positive earnings reports from several companies also lifted ­sentiment before the market turned cautious on Friday over the Greek debt crisis and India’s unexpected decision to raise rates.

“The market is short-term stretched out and ... a pause to refresh is overdue,” Wells Fargo Advisors chief market strategist Al Goldman said.

He said a mere 0.1 percent rise last month of the forward-­looking leading economic index of the business research firm The Conference Board “reminded folks that the [US] economic recovery is still rather mild.”

It was the smallest increase in 11 months of the index, held down by the manufacturing and labor market components, underscoring the nearly double-digit unemployment crisis threatening US growth.

Analysts believe the bulls will continue to drive the market but any rise will be gradual.

“A slow-motion bull market would be more long-lasting than a meltup that fizzles,” Ed Yardeni of Yardeni Research said.

Particularly encouraging, he said, was that numerous sectors and industries of the S&P 500 index had jumped to new bull-market highs in recent days. “In other words, the second year of the bull market is starting off with broad participation. That’s a good thing,” he added.

In the coming week, the US government will on Friday publish the third and final estimate of last year’s fourth-quarter GDP.

GDP — the broad measure of the country’s output — rose in the last two quarters after a year of contraction. It grew by 2.2 percent in the third quarter and a provisional 5.9 percent in the final quarter.

Most economists expect the final estimate of GDP growth will remain unchanged at 5.9 percent.

The market will also weigh a looming congressional vote today on the furiously debated US$940 billion US healthcare reform bill.

“The health bill has been so widely discussed that it’s passage should not hurt the market,” Wells Fargo’s Goldman said.

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