Dow Watch: Cat, Alcoa Surge; GE Falls

Updated from 3:25 p.m. EST

Been a Long Time

(At 6:03 p.m. EST)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose Wednesday. Just savor that for a moment.

Seems like all we ever get these days is down or down a great deal, but for one session at least, the industrials proved they don't go in only one direction. The index advanced 149.82 points, or 2.2%, to 6875.84 and ended a streak of five consecutive losses.

While it wasn't perfect, it was good enough. I don't want to dwell too much on the negatives, so I'll get them out of the way now and with only what's necessary.

The Dow finished well below its session high at 6979.22, including losing 101 points in the final half hour of trading. A mere five stocks fell, but sadly they were all of the financial variety -- American Express ( AXP), Citigroup ( C), Bank of America ( BAC), JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) and yes, General Electric ( GE).

Since I wouldn't want to be accused of focusing solely on what went wrong, I'll note that GE bounced from its lowest point since 1991 to close down 32 cents at $6.69. That was the worst reading since 1992, but in fairness it was an improvement. Things could have been uglier until investors took some comfort in the company's comments that it doesn't plan to raise new capital.

Now here's what went right, and a lot did. Alcoa ( AA), Caterpillar ( CAT) and GM ( GM) were the stars of the day, registering double-digit percentage increases.

Pfizer ( PFE) was up 5.3%, while Intel ( INTC) and 3M ( MMM) were better by 3.9% each.

All's well now? Let's be reasonable. Though we can certainly be grateful that we saw more green than red for a change.

What Bad News?

(At 2:58 p.m. EST)

Talk about a market in need of a rally. The Dow was up more than 200 points, or 3%, in the final hour of trading, putting the index at 6935. Hard not to like that.

China was a big help, as expectations that more stimulus is coming from Beijing lifted mining and industrial stocks. On the Dow, Caterpillar ( CAT) and Alcoa ( AA) were the biggest beneficiaries, rising 13% and 12%, respectively.

Think there was a lot of good news out there? ADP reported that nearly 700,000 U.S. jobs were lost last month. GE ( GE) reached its lowest point in almost two decades. The Fed's beige book said the lousy economy was, not surprisingly, still horrible and in fact deteriorating.

On the surface, not a lot to cheer. But the idea that the market was oversold had been gathering traction for a few days, and here we are, a soaring market amid another round of bleakness.

Go out to dinner tonight. Who knows when we'll get another day like this.

Financials Sit Out the Advance

(At 12:34 p.m. EST)

Still in good shape at midsession. Right at the halfway point, the Dow is up 133 points, or nearly 2%, at 6859. At its high, it crossed 6900.

Drilling down a bit, here's some good news. Of the 30 components, 24 were trading higher. Now -- I hate to do it -- the bad. While only six were lower, three of them were financials, and one of them was General Electric ( GE), itself a bigger bank than most banks.

GE had the steepest percentage decline, falling 9.1% to $6.37, a level not seen in roughly 17 years. Unbelievably, at one point during the day it hit $5.73. Staggering.

JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) was also weak, down 5.1% at $19.94. Citigroup ( C) and American Express ( AXP) were on the downside, as well.

Bank of America ( BAC), though, was holding up, adding 1.7% to $3.70.

The best names were Caterpillar ( CAT), up 15.9% at $26.04, and Alcoa ( AA), rising 13.7% to $6.29. Both of those stocks were being aided by hopes that they're poised to benefit from growth and spending in China. GM ( GM) was also gaining ground, lately 8% at $2.15.

Looks Like We'll Start Higher

(At 9:02 a.m. EST)

Futures contracts are indicating a stronger open for the Dow and the other major averages Wednesday. Unfortunately, that doesn't guarantee a higher close. Maybe it will carry through, and the industrials will break their five-session losing streak.

Several market commentators on this site and elsewhere are predicting we could be near a reprieve, either for technical or psychological reasons. If in fact we do get an upturn, the questions will inevitably arise about whether it's the beginning of a sustained reversal in this nightmarish slump or simply a pause before the downtrend resumes. For now, I'm inclined to take it one day at a time and enjoy the small victories.

Later in the session, we'll get the beige book from the Federal Reserve. That's the report that describes business conditions in the 12 Fed districts around the nation. We're all aware it's bad out there, so let's go ahead and agree now to not be surprised when that's confirmed. Already this morning, the ADP employment report said the U.S. shed 697,000 private-sector jobs in February, worse than the surveys from Dow Jones and Bloomberg forecast.

Again, it's horrible. Remember that we know this. It's one thing to be disappointed, another to be shocked.

Returning to the DJIA, financial stocks appeared headed for an early advance, with Citigroup ( C), Bank of America ( BAC) and JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) all climbing in the premarket.

GE ( GE), the worst percentage decliner a day ago, was up 3.4%. Another winner was Alcoa ( AA), better by 4.2%.

I was wishing Tuesday we could get a break. If I knew that was all it was going to take I would have done it sooner.

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