Retail Sales Power Stocks

Updated from 4 p.m. EST

Stocks ended higher Wednesday as several positive earnings reports and surprising strength in retail sales allowed fears about accounting issues to again recede.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended with a gain of 125.93 points, or 1.3%, to 9989.67. The Nasdaq gained 24.95 points, or 1.4%, to 1859.16, and the S&P 500 added 11.01 points, or 1%, to 1118.51.

Economic news out before trading started gave investors some reason for optimism. Retail sales posted a 0.2% decline in January, but excluding autos they were up 1.2%, suggesting that the consumer remains active. December numbers were revised higher, with the overall sales number increasing to a 0.2% gain from a 0.1% decline, and the ex-auto number climbing to a 0.7% gain from a 0.1% drop.

Media giant Viacom ( VIA) ticked up 7 cents to $43.31 after the company swung to a loss in the fourth quarter but managed to post results that beat analysts' expectations. The company lost 8 cents a share in the quarter before various items, while analysts had been predicting a loss of 11 cents. Viacom posted solid gains in cable and video, offset somewhat by results in its radio and publishing units.

Office Depot ( ODP) hit a 52-week high earlier in the session after topping analysts' profit forecasts in the fourth quarter and raising guidance for 2002. The office supply firm said it earned 19 cents a share in the quarter, a penny better than estimates, and said it will earn between 97 cents and $1.03 a share this year, compared with estimates of 87 cents. The shares closed up $2.30, or 14.2%, to $18.49.

Tech stocks were getting a boost from last night's earnings report from chip-equipment supplier Applied Materials ( AMAT). The company posted 2 cents a share in pro forma profit on revenue of $1 billion in its first quarter and predicted a pickup in second-quarter orders. Applied was higher by $3.25, or 7.3%, to $47.96, and the Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index gained 3.9%.

On the Big Board, Qwest ( Q) and Tyco ( TYC) were the most active stocks. Both companies have been at the center of the heightened accounting scrutiny that has kept Wall Street on edge since the collapse of energy trader Enron ( ENRNQ). Qwest was down 6.7%, but Tyco dropped 5.3%. Cisco ( CSCO) and WorldCom ( WCOM) were the top two volume leaders on Nasdaq.

Advancers led decliners by a 19 to 11 margin on the New York Stock Exchange, and Nasdaq winners were outpacing losers 20 to 14.

GameStop ( GME), a unit of Barnes & Noble ( BKS) that sells video games and entertainment software, got off to a good start on its first day of trading. The stock finished up $2.10, or 11.7%, to $20.10 after the company priced its IPO at $18 a share.

Elsewhere in the corporate world, mechanics at UAL ( UAL), the parent company of United Airlines, voted to authorize a strike after rejecting the latest contract proposal. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers could walk out as early as Feb. 20 if no compromise is reached, although the two sides have pledged to keep negotiating. The latest reports indicate that the two sides will resume talks Friday. Shares of UAL were dropped 58 cents, or 4.7%, to $11.81. The airline sector was lower across the board.

(For more corporate news, check out TheStreet.com's Stocks to Watch.)

While equities were enjoying a strong day, government-issued fixed-income securities, as is often the case, were mostly lower. Around 4 p.m. EST, the 10-year Treasury note was losing 2/32 to 99 5/32 to yield 4.98%.

Overseas stocks were mainly higher with London's FTSE 100 up 0.4% to 5154 and Germany's Xetra Dax gaining 1.1% to 4935. In Japan, the Nikkei was up 90 points, or 1%, to 9968.

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