Report soothes inflation fears
NEW YORK » A wide swath of good news, from better-than-expected retail sales and worker productivity figures to a major court victory for Merck & Co., drove stocks higher yesterday, although a jump in oil prices limited the gains.
Wall Street's inflation worries were mollified by the latest government report on productivity, which rose 4.1 percent in the third quarter, the biggest rise in a year. With workers more productive, they can be paid more without increasing the risk of inflation.
And while investors remain cautious about consumer spending this winter due to high heating prices, October's retail sales reports were generally stronger than expected, with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp. and Nordstrom Inc. all surpassing expectations.
Stock buyers received further encouragement by a report showing growth in the service sector. The Institute for Supply Management's services index rose to 60 in October from 53.3 in September and three points better than economists had forecast.
Yet the market received a harsh reminder of the long-term problems the economy faces as oil prices surged $2.03 to settle at $61.78 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The jump in oil ate into some of the market's gains and brought to mind the high energy prices, inflation and expected drop in fourth quarter consumer spending that lie in the future.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 49.86, or 0.48 percent, to 10,522.59.
Broader stock indicators also moved higher. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 5.18, or 0.43 percent, to 1,219.94, and the Nasdaq composite index climbed 15.91, or 0.74 percent, to 2,160.22.
Bonds continued dropping one session after falling to their lowest levels since March. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note climbed to 4.65 percent from 4.61 percent late Wednesday. The dollar rose against most major currencies, while gold prices fell.
Investors received more reassurance after Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said he was bullish on the economy, telling a congressional hearing the economic impact from the recent spate of hurricanes was temporary and that the economy remained sturdy. However, he said the Fed would keep a close watch on energy prices in case they spark broader inflation, which made the day's good news all the more important on Wall Street.