US stocks helped by Fed, Congress

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WallStreet1234 Reuters. A Wall Street sign is pictured outside the New York Stock Exchange in New York.

New York - US stocks surged higher this week as investors were reassured by the Federal Reserve, cheered by a congressional move to raise the debt ceiling and undeterred by disappointing economic data.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 360.31 (2.28 percent), its biggest weekly increase in 2014, to close at 16,154.39.

The broad-based S&P 500 rose 41.61 (2.32 percent) to 1,838.63, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index vaulted 118.17 (2.86

percent) higher to 4,244.03.

It was the second straight week of gains.

Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at S&P Capital IQ, said the rally reflects renewed confidence that concerns about emerging economies and some disappointing earnings results were exaggerated.

The Dow lost more than five percent of its value in January due to these worries.

“Investors are seeing that the economy is still strong enough to deal with (the Federal Reserve) tapering” of stimulus, Stovall said.

”The news that caused us to fall into this tailspin was not severe enough to warrant such a decline.”

Investors smiled on Janet Yellen's first appearance before a congressional panel since becoming chair of the US Central Bank.

Analysts said Yellen's testimony was not particularly “dovish,” as she confirmed the Fed's plan remains to taper stimulus based on the conclusion that the economy is improving.

But Yellen succeeded in presenting a seamless transition from her predecessor Ben Bernanke, analysts said.

Her tone was so similar to Bernanke's that Wells Fargo analyst Scott Wren speculated that Bernanke wrote Yellen's opening statement.

“It will be hard to detect any change in 'personality' between the Bernanke Fed and the Yellen Fed,” Wren said.

If Yellen's appearance was notable for its lack of surprises, the decision of Republican leaders in the House and Senate to agree to extend US borrowing authority through 2015 constituted a positive surprise for investors.

Investors were dreading another major brawl that could have rattled investors.

But Republican leaders opted against attaching controversial amendments to the bill to raise the debt ceiling.

“This is definitely a positive for both equity and bond investors, as investors hate Washington surprises and vicious debate,” said Fred Dickson of DA Davidson & Co.

“Passage of the debt ceiling suspension supports our view that investors should experience 'smoother sailing' in 2014 than 2013 in terms of economic growth and disruptive Washington policy.”

Some of the week's economic data was disappointing.

US retail sales fell 0.4 percent in January, while industrial production also saw an unexpected dip.

But the Federal Reserve said the decline in industrial output was partly due to “the severe weather that curtailed production in some regions of the country.”

Analysts said there is a growing sense that recent economic data points are stilted by weather.

“We don't know exactly what is going on under the weather,” said Chris Low, chief economist at FTN Financial.

“The numbers are weak, but it might not reflect the underlying reality.”

A lot of the weak data “is weather-related,” Stovall said.

“We will find that as the months move on, the economy will bounce back.”

The week's biggest corporate story was Comcast's announcement that it was acquiring Time Warner Cable in a deal worth about $45.2 billion.

Comcast said the plan would allow it to deploy new technologies for delivering streaming content and use the Internet cloud, with greater efficiency.

But consumer activists blasted the proposed deal for giving too much market power to Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal's film and television assets and is one of the largest providers of cable Internet.

Major news events next week include the release of minutes from the Fed's January meeting, data releases on housing starts and existing-home sales and earnings from Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart Stores. - Sapa-AFP



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