Singing the Blue-Chips' Praises

Updated from 3:15 p.m. EST

Blue-chips ended sharply higher and tech shares also rose Wednesday as strength in a hodgepodge of Dow names began to outweigh accounting paranoia.

Preliminary numbers showed the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended up 196 points, or 2%, to 9941, while the Nasdaq, buttressed by an earnings affirmation from Lucent ( LU), gained 25 points, or 1.4%, to 1776. The S&P 500 gained 15 points, or 1%, to 1098.

The Dow's strength came from Alcoa ( AA), up 3.86%; AT&T ( T), up 4.4%; Eastman Kodak ( EK), up 3.9%; Disney ( DIS), up 6.4%; Honeywell ( HON), up 5.7%; and General Motors ( GM), up 4.5%.

Lucent Chief Executive Patricia Russo soothed technology investors by affirming previously given second-quarter guidance. Last month the company said it expects second-quarter sales growth of 10% to 15% above the first quarter. "We have not seen anything different, and we're 30 days into this quarter," she told reporters at the company's shareholder meeting in Wilmington, Del. The shares closed up 39 cents, or 7.4%, to $5.68.

The latest company under accounting pressure was Computer Associates ( CA). The Islandia, N.Y., software maker is being investigated by federal regulators for inflating its results, according to articles published in The New York Times and Long Island's Newsday. Even though the company denied being contacted by the authorities, the stock fell $4.40, or 17.4%, to $20.91.

Meanwhile, General Electric ( GE) was slightly higher after a story in The Wall Street Journal reported that the company will amend its disclosure policy for its financial reports, specifically regarding its GE Capital financial services unit. Shares of GE gained $1.17, or 3.2%, to $37.57.

Amid the volatile corporate news, the Labor Department issued its consumer price index for January, with the results matching economists' expectations. The index, which measures inflation at the consumer level, rose 0.2%, compared with a 0.2% decline the previous month. The core rate, excluding food and energy, also met expectations, rising 0.2%.

Lehman Brothers analyst Holly Becker weighed in on AOL Time Warner ( AOL), downgrading the stock to market perform from a buy rating, citing the media titan's lower growth projections for its America Online business. AOL's shares closed off $1.32, or 5.2%, at $24.20.

Elsewhere, Banc of America Securities upgraded Oracle ( ORCL) to buy from market perform, citing the stock's valuation. The firm believes that an improvement in the economy could lead to database and earnings per share growth of 25% to 30%.

Oracle climbed 72 cents, or 4.9%, to $15.51, but for the most part, software stocks were lower most of the day but then rallied. Siebel Systems ( SEBL) sunk 3.2% to close at $30.89. PeopleSoft ( PSFT) was down 6% early in the day, but closed up 30 cents at $29.40, while Veritas ( VRTS) and BEA Systems ( BEAS) were also lower early then rebounded to close up slightly. Microsoft ( MSFT) inched higher, gaining 97 cents to close at $59.90.

The Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index was slightly lower a day after January book-to-bill numbers were released. The headline number ticked up from December, but analysts offered mixed views on the report. Separately, chip equipment maker Applied Materials ( AMAT) said at a technology conference that it expects growth in the second half of 2002. The company also said it is gaining market share in nearly every product category, but specifically in metrology and inspection.

Consumer electronics retailer Circuit City ( CC) reclaimed some of Tuesday's losses after Merrill Lynch came out in defense of the company. Merrill said there was nothing unusual about the company taking charge to account for extraordinary remodeling costs. Merrill's retail analyst Peter Caruso raised his investment rating on the stock to strong buy from buy, and the stock climbed 10% to $24.32 in today's trading.

Treasuries turned higher around midday. Recently, the 10-year note was up 1/32 to 100 2/32, yielding 4.86%.

Overseas, stocks were mostly lower, with London's FTSE 100 losing 1.3% to 5024 and Germany's Xetra Dax roughly unchanged at 4767. Japan's Nikkei 225 closed down 0.1% to 9834, and the Hang Seng lost 0.8% to 10,749.

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