Closing Market Report

Star-Bulletin news services

Inflation worries ease,
sending stocks higher

NEW YORK >> Investors got some reassurance about inflation and the economy from Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan yesterday, and sent stocks higher as the market's interest rates worries ebbed.

Testifying before Congress at his reconfirmation hearing, Greenspan said that, in the short term, inflation was not a major concern, though he reiterated that the Fed would be aggressive if need be.

His comments came shortly after the Labor Department released its latest Consumer Price Index. While the CPI reading was higher than expected, investors were cheered that the "core" CPI -- without energy and food prices -- was in line with expectations, showing that economic growth, and accompanying inflation, may be manageable.

"I think the core number took a little concern out of the market," said Joseph Battipaglia, chief investment officer at Ryan Beck & Co. "It doesn't change the fact that interest rates will rise, but the pace that the Fed has to raise interest rates is the key question. This could call for the more measured pace."

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 45.70, or 0.4 percent, to 10,380.43. It had been more than 90 points higher earlier in the session before profit taking ate into the gains late in the day.

Broader stock indicators also had healthy gains. The Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed 6.72, or 0.6 percent, to 1,132.01, and the Nasdaq composite index was up 25.61, or 1.3 percent, at 1,995.60.

The Treasury's two-year note rose 1 1/32 to 991732, with its yield falling 19 basis points to 2.74 percent. The 10-year note jumped 11632 to 1001832, with its yield dropping 19 basis points to 4.68 percent.

The CPI reading for May was 0.6 percent higher, the biggest increase since January 2001. Economists had been expecting a 0.5 percent increase. However, with food and energy costs taken away, the core CPI rose just 0.2 percent, meeting the forecast.

With the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries promising to increase output to combat high oil prices, and with gasoline prices falling last week for the first time since mid-December, some analysts felt energy prices may soon come under control, removing one of inflation's biggest drivers.

It remained unclear, however, whether the Fed would raise the nation's benchmark interest rate by a quarter percentage point or a half point when it meets June 29. Greenspan gave no clues about the Fed's thinking before the Senate Banking Committee, which was holding a hearing on his renomination as Fed chairman.

Wall Street, however, was beginning to think that a half-point rate hike might be too much, and could hurt the market's chances for a strong rally.

"I don't think this warrants a half-point," said Brian Belski, market strategist at Piper Jaffray. "I think we see a quarter-point in June and then a nice rally through the summer until we start getting some noise from the election."

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