Tech Stocks Extend Charge

The Nasdaq has gained almost 60 points in two days. The S&P 500 hits a four-year high.
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Updated from 4:07 p.m. EST

Tech stocks found fresh momentum Wednesday, running higher on the back of

Google

(GOOG) - Get Report

and a strong networking sector, while blue chips ended near their best levels of the day.

The

Nasdaq

gained 19.72 points, or 0.88%, to 2263.46, bringing its two-session gain to nearly 60 points.

Google

(GOOG) - Get Report

rose 2.3% on a Bear Stearns upgrade, and

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Report

and

Ciena

(CIEN) - Get Report

closed with 2.3% and 3.9% gains, respectively.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

rose 32.74 points, or 0.3%, to 10,880.15, and the

S&P 500

was up 4.66 points, or 0.37%, at 1273.46. The close was a four-year high for the S&P.

About 1.83 billion shares traded on the

New York Stock Exchange

, with advancers beating decliners by a 12-to-5 margin. Trading volume on the Nasdaq was 1.92 billion shares, and advancers led decliners 2 to 1.

"The markets were able to build on yesterday's gains," said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist with Spencer Clarke. "Market breadth was encouraging."

The 10-year Treasury was up 4/32 in price to yield 4.35% and is now 5 basis points above the yield on the two-year note. The dollar fell against the yen and the euro.

Oil prices continued higher after vaulting to a two-month high Tuesday. February crude, which got a 5% lift from a supply drama pitting Russia and the Ukraine, was up 28 cents to close at $63.42 a barrel on Nymex. Natural gas futures were down 44 cents to $10.19 per million British thermal units.

The broad averages took off Tuesday after minutes from the Dec. 19 meeting of the

Federal Open Market Committee

that suggested the current crop of interest rate hikes is nearing an end. The Dow rose 130 points for its best performance since October, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite had their biggest one-day point gains since April.

"The market is still feeling good after the

Federal Reserve

minutes yesterday," said Robert Pavlik, chief investment officer with Oaktree Asset Management. "Between now and the end of the week, we have a lot of economic data coming out."

On the economic front Wednesday, factory orders for November rose 2.5%, just topping the consensus forecast. On Friday, December's nonfarm payrolls will be released, with economists expecting 200,000 jobs to be added for the month. The unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 5.0%.

"Many investors are looking ahead to Friday's important jobs data, which will set the tone for quite a while," added Sheldon.

In corporate news, Google jumped by $10.01 to $445.24 after Bear Stearns upgraded the stock to outperform and set a $550 price target. The brokerage said Google is seeding a self-reinforcing "ecosystem" that should set the stage for long-term growth in its fundamentals. Google rose 5% Tuesday after Piper Jaffray set a $600 target on the shares.

By sector, the Amex Airline index rose 2.3%, rebounding from a 1.2% decline on Tuesday. The Philadelphia Semiconductor Sector index was adding 0.7%, and the Philadelphia Oil Service Sector index was higher by 1.6%.

One stock left out of Tuesday's fireworks was

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

, which lost 2.7% after being downgraded at Bank of America on concerns about labor negotiations.

On Wednesday, GM reported that U.S. auto sales were down 4% for 2005, with car sales falling 7.1% and truck sales declining 2% for the year. In December, U.S. car sales tumbled 19.4% from a year ago while truck sales were lower by 4.9%. GM finished up 51 cents, or 2.7%, to $19.41.

GM rival

Ford

(F) - Get Report

posted a 4.9% fall in 2005 U.S. auto sales. For December, car sales declined 5.8%, while truck sales dropped 10.2%.

DaimlerChrysler

(DCX)

reported a 4% increase in last year's U.S. auto sales. For December, sales fell 2% from last year.

Ford rose 18 cents, or 2.3%, to $8.01. DaimlerChrysler lost 24 cents, or 0.5%, to close at $53.51.

Estee Lauder

(EL) - Get Report

added more than 5% after being added to the S&P 500 to replace

Mercury Interactive

(MERQE)

, which the Nasdaq is delisting. Standard & Poor's also said

Per Se Technologies

(PSTI) - Get Report

will be added to the S&P SmallCap 600, replacing

NDCHealth

(NDC)

.

Monsanto

(MON)

said it swung to better-than-expected first-quarter earnings, thanks to strong seed sales. The company put full-year earnings at the high end of its range of $2.35 to $2.50 a share; the Thomson First Call consensus estimate is $2.58 a share. Monsanto was higher by 24 cents, or 0.3%, to close at $80.06.

Aetna

(AET)

CEO John Rowe will retire by the end of 2006, to be succeeded by Ronald Williams, who is currently president. Rowe is 61 years old. Shares of Aetna rose 36 cents, or 0.4%, to $94.42.

Southwest Air

(LUV) - Get Report

said it flew 5 billion revenue passenger miles in December, up from 4.3 billion a year earlier. Its load factor for the month was 67.6%, up from 62.9% a year ago. Southwest tacked on 52 cents, or 3.2%, to $16.95.

Merrill Lynch reiterated its buy rating for

Verizon

(VZ) - Get Report

based on its valuation. Verizon added 89 cents, or 2.9%, to $31.27.

Overseas markets were higher on the heels of Tuesday's 1.2% rally on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, with London's FTSE 100 gaining 0.6% to 5714 and Germany's Xetra DAX adding 1.2% to 5523. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei gained 1.6% overnight to 16,362, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.7% to 15,200.