By Peter McKay
A broad-based stock rally continued Monday afternoon following rate-related comments from a central banker and strong housing data that put investors back in the mood to bet aggressively.
Major indexes have trimmed their gains since hitting late-morning highs, with many participants heading to the sidelines. But the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) has managed to hold onto a triple-digit gain so far -- a welcome rebound from its recent three-day slide.
The Dow, which was up about 177 points at its morning high, was recently up 121 points, or 1.1%, at 10,439.16, on track for a new 13-month closing high. Twenty-eight of its 30 components posted gains, with Alcoa Inc. (AA) and Merck & Co. (MRK) the only exceptions, off about 0.3% each.
Monday's session has seen a resurgence of the so-called risk trade in which investors put cash that was earning little interest back to work in the financial markets. That strategy fell out of favor late last week, fueling the stock market's three-day slide. But traders and analysts expect it to play a key role on Wall Street well into 2010, with interest rates in the U.S. likely to remain near rock bottom.
"It's hard to fight the flood of liquidity that opens on this market on any day when the dollar weakens," said Art Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co. "We saw things go back the other way a little bit last week, but now those floodgates are back open again."
The market drew early support from remarks by St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, who said Sunday in an interview with Dow Jones Newswires that the U.S. should continue buying mortgage-backed securities past the first quarter of 2010, when asset purchases are due to end.
Bullard's comments stood in contrast to remarks from the European Central Bank last week and helped fuel the view that policy makers in the U.S. will lag behind their counterparts in other countries in raising interest rates and removing the massive liquidity pumped into markets since last year to stimulate growth. Reflecting that increasing divergence in interest-rate expectations, the euro gained almost 1% from Friday, touching the psychologically significant $1.50 level.
The U.S. dollar index (DXY) was recently down 0.7%.
The Standard & Poor's 500 (SPX) rose 1.1%, led by a 2.2% gain in its telecommunications sector. Bellwether Sprint Nextel Corp. (US-S) rose 4.5% as its pending purchase of Virgin Mobile USA Inc. (VM) for $483 million neared completion, with a closing expected Tuesday. AT&T Inc. (T), which is also a component of the Dow, was up 2.4% following a Barron's story pointing out that the carrier's shares have lagged that average recently. Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) was up 2.9%.
All the S&P's other categories were advancing as well, with financials, technology, industrials, energy and utilities all posting gains of more than 1% in recent action. The Nasdaq Composite Index (RIXF) was up 1.1%. And the small-stock Russell 2000 (RUT), which tends to benefit at times when investors are growing more aggressive about taking on risk, posted the strongest gain of the major indexes, up 1.5%.
The market also got a boost Monday from data from the National Association of Realtors, which said home resales increased by 10.1% to a 6.10 million annual rate from 5.54 million in September. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected a 2.3% increase in sales during October. .
Some participants remained on the defensive Monday, including Keith Wirtz, chief investment officer at Fifth Third Asset Management in Cincinnati. "What we're having here is a skeptic's rally," with many portfolio managers buying despite their misgivings about the market's fundamentals, Wirtz said.
Wirtz's firm has been lightening its exposure to stocks and will continue to do so through the end of 2009, except in a few sectors such as energy, basic materials and technology, he said. Wirtz said those categories are well-positioned to benefit from a return to growth in the global economy.
Trading volume, which has been below average through most of the month, was again light on Monday. Composite turnover in New York Stock Exchange-listed companies recently hit 2.7 billion shares.
In a note to clients, Miller Tabak strategist Peter Boockvar said Monday's full-day volume could turn out to be the lightest of the year, with many traders scaling back their activity following last week's expiration of options contracts often used as a hedge on stock holdings. The full-day low for 2009 so far is 3.6 billion shares on Jan. 2.
Among stocks in focus, LDK Solar Co. (LDK) jumped nearly 7% after the Chinese maker of solar wafers and modules posted a surprise profit for the third quarter, breaking a string of three consecutive quarterly losses. .
Deere & Co. (DE) rose 1.8% after being upgraded to overweight from equal weight by Morgan Stanley analysts.
Oil futures were boosted by both the dollar's weakness and rising tension over Iran's nuclear program. The oil-producing nation launched a five-day air-defense exercise Sunday amid continuing Western pressure to accept a nuclear-energy deal negotiated last month with the aid of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Oil futures were recently up 73 cents to $78.20 a barrel in New York, helping to boost the shares of energy producers. Dow components Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Chevron Corp. (CVX) rose 1.8% and 2.6%, respectively.
Treasury prices were muted following well-bid auctions of 3-month and 6-month bills. But demand for two-year debt was weak, pushing the two-year note down 1/32 to yield 0.739% in recent action. The benchmark 10-year note was up 1/32 to yield 3.366%.