Wall Street Rings In The New Year

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Wall Street got off to a strong start in 2003 as the Dow climbed 265 points on news of an unexpected surge in U.S. manufacturing.

"We got a positive manufacturing report and that really was a turn-on," said Larry Wachtel, market analyst at Prudential Securities.

The market was cheered by word that manufacturing grew in December for the first time in four months. The Institute for Supply Management said its index of business activity rose to 54.7 in December from 49.2 in November. A reading above 50 indicates the manufacturing sector is growing; a reading below 50 signals contraction in the sector.

Analysts had forecast a reading of 50.1 for the month. The last time the index was above 50 was in August.

"The manufacturing sector rebounded in December," said Norbert J. Ore, who oversees the group's monthly survey. "The question at this point is whether the manufacturing sector can continue to gather momentum during the first quarter of 2003."

The Dow closed up 265.89, or 3.2 percent, at 8,607.52, claiming its biggest one-day gain since Oct. 15, when it rose 378.28. The rally came on the heels of the Dow having lost 16.8 percent in 2002 and 27.5 percent from 2000-2002.

The broader market was also sharply higher. The Nasdaq composite index rose 49.34, or 3.7 percent, to 1,384.85 after falling 31.5 percent last year and 66.9 percent over the past three years. The last time the Nasdaq had a bigger one-session gain was Oct. 15, when it climbed 61.91.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index advanced 29.21, or 3.3 percent, to 909.03, following last year's loss of 23.4 percent and a three-year drop of 40.1 percent. The last time the S&P had a stronger finish was Oct. 15, when it rose 39.83.

Manufacturers were among Thursday's winners on Wall Street. 3M rose $3.45 to $126.75 and Caterpillar climbed $2.03 to $47.75.

Merck rose $1.64 to $58.25 after the Food and Drug Administration approved the drug maker's allergy drug Singulair for relief of hay fever.

J.P. Morgan Chase advanced $1.78 to $25.44 after announcing it had reached a settlement with 10 insurance companies. The insurers will pay about 60 percent of the $1 billion J.P. Morgan said it was owed to cover losses on deals related to the now collapsed Enron Corp.

In other economic developments Thursday, the Labor Department reported that the number of newly laid-off Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits rose by 13,000 last week to 403,000 after declining for two consecutive weeks. The number was in line with analysts' expectations.

Also Thursday, President Bush said he will unveil an economic-stimulus package next week, one that will benefit all Americans.

"I will talk about how to create jobs, how best to create jobs, as well as how to take care of those who don't have a job," Mr. Bush said.

Some of the purchasing and supply executives surveyed for the manufacturing index reported an increase in new orders for their products during December. But a number still see little if any rebound, and fears of a war with Iraq appear to be holding back business.

The index was pushed higher in large part by surge in new orders, and an increase in production.

Of the 20 industries surveyed, 11 reported growth, including food, leather, instruments and photographic equipment, and printing and publishing.

The manufacturing index is based on a survey of executives who buy the raw materials for manufacturing at more than 350 companies.

The Tempe, Ariz.-based group was formerly known as the National Association of Purchasing Management.

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