Updated from 2:47 p.m. EST
Nice Gains for a Change(At 5:19 p.m. EST) Not sure how much follow through we'll get tomorrow, but Tuesday's run-up in the market certainly was a relief from the almost daily pessimism and gloom about stocks we've gotten used to. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 236.16 points, or 3.3%, to 7350.94 after Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke cheered traders with his vision that 2010 could be the year we'll begin the recovery. I like the sound of this. Assuming the government can get things turned around by propping up a few badly distressed companies, we'll be back in form next year. Just 10 more months and then we'll be creating jobs, buying new homes and cars, filling the malls, getting more credit cards. Right? In all seriousness, let's hope he's on to something and that tonight President Obama will add some encouraging comments about getting the economy out of this mess. Since I don't want to be too cynical, I'll focus on the positives. The Dow broke a three-day string of losses and had its best point gain and percentage increase since Jan. 21. The move higher cut the index's decline for the month to 8.1% and pared its decrease for the year to 16.2%. Microsoft ( MSFT) was the only loser of the 30 Dow stocks, and it fell just 4 cents to $17.17. The winners were paced by Bank of America ( BAC), Citigroup ( C) and GM ( GM), all of which soared more than 20%, led by a 25.4% surge in the automaker. Other big gainers were American Express ( AXP), up 12.1%, and Alcoa ( AA) and Home Depot ( HD), better by 10% each. And with that, good night.
Rally on Wall Street(At 2:21 p.m. EST) The market liked what it heard from Ben Bernanke Tuesday, and the financial sector climbed as the Fed chief told Congress that the government didn't want any more common equity in banks than was absolutely required to stem giant losses. Shame we didn't get this strong of a reaction a day ago when a group of agencies, including the central bank and the Treasury, said nationalizing the banks wasn't being planned or on Friday when the White House said it wanted to ensure a privately held financial system continued in the U.S. Maybe it was the fact that Bernanke came across as professional, engaged and sure of himself during his testimony on Capitol Hill. These days, Wall Street's going to be pretty happy, even if just temporarily, with anything that's not amateur hour. With about an hour and a half left in the day, the Dow was up 199 points at 7314, it's high for the session. Only two stocks, Microsoft ( MSFT) and Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ), were in the red. The other 28 were up, led by a 16.1% rally in Bank of America ( BAC) and a 14.6% increase in Citigroup ( C). GM ( GM) was rising 13%, and Home Depot ( HD) was up 10%. JPMorgan Chase ( JPM), after a brief trip below the flat line, was positive again, higher by 4.8% to $20.45. This might only be a brief step forward in what has been an awful market to have long positions for months, but I have to admit, it's nice to see 200-point gain and a little bit of optimism for a change.
Bad News? What Bad News?(At 10:55 a.m. EST) Ben Bernanke is talking about the nation's severe economic contraction. The Conference Board's consumer confidence index has never been lower. Home prices continue to plunge. Corporate profits are falling. Another day, another round of depressing news. Let's rally. In fairness, Bernanke said he was hopeful the recession will end later this year, with a recovery potentially beginning in 2010 -- provided, that is, the government can restore some order to the system. Maybe that gave the eternal optimists out there reason to believe. After all, it will end at some point, right? So let's say next year and pray it's correct. At any rate, investors appeared inclined to do a little bargain-hunting after the selloff on Monday that left the Dow and the S&P 500 at their worst levels in more than a decade. Some 90 minutes into the trading session, the Dow was up 112 points, or 1.6%, at 7227. Only seven of the 30 components were lower, led by a 3.9% decline in American Express ( AXP). GE ( GE) was weak again, falling another 2.2% to $8.65. Last time out, just two stocks rose. Bank of America ( BAC) and Citigroup ( C) -- the previous day's only winners -- were up for a second day. Talk about an unusual development for two stocks that have been categorically taken apart in recent weeks. The best performer though, on a percentage basis, was Home Depot ( HD), up 8.1% to $20.22 following its quarterly results. GM ( GM) was also upbeat, advancing 6.8% to $1.89. Hard to believe we can actually celebrate that. One of the true icons of American industry approaching $2.
Of course, these are bizarre and troubled times. Want to know what passes for good news these days? Normally if you're a shareholder you hate to see your company cutting its dividend. Yet that's what JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) did after the last close, slashing its quarterly payout 86% to 5 cents a share. Bad, right? Wrong. JPMorgan has been anointed as one of the survivors of this excruciating financial, credit and confidence crisis, and this capital-preservation move was greeted warmly, especially since it was joined by the announcement that the company's first quarter so far is solidly profitable. Shares were gaining 0.5% to $19.60. And how about Microsoft ( MSFT)? This Yahoo! ( YHOO) story really isn't going away. Ever maybe. The Windows maker was one of the sluggish names on the Dow, losing more than 1%.