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The wounded healed a little today as investors opened their wallets to lift the battered stock market.


Dow Jones Industrial Average made a strong run for it, creeping past the end of trading with triple-digit gains. But the

Nasdaq Composite Index was in trouble, dazed and stumbling around the flatline during the last hour of trading. Even the Nasdaq, though, ended in the green.

Earlier today, the Comp swung below 2300, an unthinkable fall from grace for the Nasdaq, which earlier this year spent about a month trading at double that, hitting a record 5132 in March. Today, the Comp broke a seven-day losing streak. Biotechs had earlier given the Comp some strength even as the chipmakers crumbled -- but the

Nasdaq Biotech Index

ended up just 0.5%.

Overall, the tech picture was still pretty crappy. On the Nasdaq, 705 stocks hit 52-week lows today, while the number of stocks in the red easily outnumbered those in the green. And volume was heavy, too.

The Dow was pretty powerful, as the interest-rate sensitive J.P. Morgan played superhero yet again and rose to the challenge of lifting the blue-chips. Morgan added 50 points to the Dow gain as investors shunned


(IBM) - Get International Business Machines Corporation Report

for the third straight day after it was downgraded by

Merrill Lynch


Manufacturing, retailing and consumer products benefited from the exodus from technology.

Home Depot

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were bright blue-chips, gaining ground and helping push the

S&P Retail Index


Part of today's retail move can be traced back to the Fed's decision Tuesday to change its bias and lean toward a rate cut. In a note to investors this morning, Merrill Lynch pointed out that a rate cut, which seems inevitable, would spark interest in specialty retailers. And apparently it had. The S&P Retailers gained 3.4% today.

In a shocking bit of news,


said that investor optimism was dropping along with stock prices. The company's Index of Investor Optimism fell 38 points in December, with investors spooked by the slowing economy and the controversial presidential election.

The kids


all right -- they're scared. Older investors, those who saw the gas shortages of 1972, crashes in 1987, the rise and fall of Japan, and thousands of buying opportunities coming and going, are having an easier time with the recent Bull market death. It's their younger counterparts, the ones who've known 20% growth and nothing else, who are awash with grief.

"The drop in optimism was most pronounced among the least experienced investors, those with less than five years in the markets, averaging 91 in December compared with 134 last month," the report said.

According to the report, which was produced with those wacky Gallup pollsters, expectations for short-term growth have dropped. Lowered expectations and diminishing returns have combined to torpedo what people think they'll make. Consider it the rebirth of realism.

Oh, and remember that uncertainty? Remember how markets don't like uncertainty?

The report said: "When asked about the controversy over the presidential election, nearly three-quarters, 74%, believe the uncertainty has negatively affected the investment climate, compared with only 7% who say it has not had a negative impact."

Markets do not like uncertainty.

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Sector Watch

Just stay away from Internet Sector Index

. It was off 4.6%, and if that drop holds until the bell, which seems highly likely at this point, this will be the eighth-straight day of losses for its dot-coms.

Many of its 24 dot-com components have been destroyed, with about half now worth less than $10 a share. Close to all have either hit or come within pocket change of record lows. And here's a fun little game -- take today's closing quote on the index, which should be around 281 points, and multiply it by 4.

You'll still be about 20 points beneath where it opened the year 2000.

Airliners and transports rallied off yesterday's


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and fuel cost woes. When the major shipper talked about its earnings, which beat expectations, it mentioned that fuel costs would have an impact. This hurt both the airliners and transports, which are packed with companies that do the same thing FedEx does -- spend money on fuel to make money flying around.


American Stock Exchange Airline Index

rose 1.8%, while the

Dow Jones Transportation Average

rose 2.2%.

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Treasury note and bonds had been trading lower, but lately were up. They had been trading lower despite a slate of weaker-than-expected economic data. The probable cause was: A rearguard action by equities, which were fighting to take back some ground after suffering heavy losses yesterday.

The benchmark 10-year

Treasury note lately was up 5/32 to 105 16/32, raising its yield to 5.021%.

In economic news, the

Philadelphia Fed Index


definition |

chart |


), a regional manufacturing-sector indicator, dropped to 6.1 in December, its lowest level since September 1998, from 5.2 in November.

Initial jobless claims


definition |

chart |


) rose, indicating slackening demand for workers. First-time claims for unemployment insurance rose to 345,000 from 320,000 the previous week. The four-week average rose to 347,250, a new 29-month high, from 343,250.

Finally, third-quarter

gross domestic product


definition |

chart |


) was finalized at 2.2%, down from 2.4%. The third-quarter price deflator, a measure of inflation, was finalized at 1.6%, down from 1.9%. Economists polled by


had forecast no revisions. The change in the GDP was due principally to slower rates of inventory-accumulation by businesses, federal government spending, and capital spending by businesses.

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