BUSINESS

Dow, S&P 500 rise as economists see growth for jobs and housing; Facebook slides

05/21/2012 10:31 EDT | Updated 07/21/2012 05:12 EDT
NEW YORK, N.Y. - After a weekend that brought both fresh concerns about Europe and hopeful signs about China, investors decided to focus on the latter.

All the major U.S. stock indexes climbed, as investors latched on to weekend statements from China's Premier Wen Jiabao, who promised to boost the country's consumption rather than just try to curb inflation. That helped ease the disappointment of what many investors saw as an ambiguous conclusion to the weekend's G-8 meeting of world leaders, which produced statements promising to pursue growth in Europe but not much in the way of concrete plans for how to do so.

Caterpillar, which is heavily reliant on demand from China, rose 3 per cent, just its fourth gain for the month of May. Several big-name financial firms, including Bank of America and Morgan Stanley, declined; bank stocks tend to fall when investors are concerned about Europe because of the banks' investments there.

The Dow rose 109 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 12,478 shortly after noon Monday. That was a marked change from its recent performance, which has been crippled by Greece. This month Greece failed to elect a new government and is teetering close to leaving the euro.

Monday was the Dow's first gain after six straight days of losses, and only its third up day for May. Last week marked its worst weekly performance since November. The month has wiped out nearly three-quarters of the Dow's gains from January through March.

The other major stock indexes, the Standard & Poor's 500 and the Nasdaq composite, also climbed after days-long droughts.

Despite the broad gains, several well-known companies fell. Facebook plunged 10 per cent on its second day as a public company, dropping below Friday's initial public offering price. JPMorgan Chase, under fire for a surprise trading loss, fell 3 per cent after announcing it will stop buying back its own stock.

It wasn't clear if the gains represented a corner turned or a temporary moment of relief. Concerns about Europe flowed freely even after the weekend's G-8 summit at Camp David.

Germany's deputy finance minister on Monday derided a plan pushed by the new French president that would require Germany and other stronger European countries to fund "Eurobonds" to prop up weaker countries like Greece and Portugal. Bankia, a bank nationalized by the Spanish government, was ordered to come up with more money for possible bad loans.

Clark Yingst, chief market analyst for investment banking firm Joseph Gunnar in New York, said the G-8 meeting had done little to calm investors' fears. In fact, investors appear to be growing more worried that the European debt problems "might not be as manageable as they previously believed," Yingst said. "Today's rally has nothing to do with what is evolving around Greece."

Yingst was paying close attention to China, after Premier Wen promised to give more priority to boost any slowdown in the country's economic growth. China, the world's second-largest economy, has been instrumental in maintaining global growth as other parts of the world have stumbled through the past couple of years. Its economic growth fell to 8.1 per cent in the first quarter — a point of envy for most other countries, but a three-year low for China.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note climbed slightly, a sign that investors were pulling out of bonds to invest in stocks. That's something they tend to do when they're more optimistic about the market.

It could also mean they're tired of the paltry returns on government bonds. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note is around 1.7 per cent; the dividend yield on S&P 500 stocks is around 2.1 per cent, said Jim Russell, chief equity strategist of U.S. Bank's wealth management unit in Cincinnati.

"Bonds are expensive and stocks are cheap," Russell said. "People are sniffing around for deals."

Russell said the market's performance will depend heavily on news that comes out of Europe. Leaders of the 27 European Union countries will hold an informal meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.

"That will be the key," Russell said. But, he added, "I think the central banks and governments still have gun powder that is dry."

Elsewhere, oil prices rose after Iraq's central government told its Kurdish leaders that they must get approval for their oil deals with Turkey.

Lowe's Cos., the world's second largest home improvement chain, slumped 10 per cent after lowering its full-year earnings forecast. Campbell Soup fell 3 per cent after reporting that its profit fell even after it spent more on marketing to try to attract busy, younger consumers.