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Wall Street Makes a Joyful Noise on the Upside, Leaving Nasdaq Near 5000
By Aaron L. Task
TheStreet.com
  

SAN FRANCISCO -- Joy to the bulls.

A benign employment report provided investors a much-needed excuse to buy beaten down "old economy" stocks, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average sharply higher today. With just about everything of late proving an excuse to buy technology stocks, the data not surprisingly helped the Nasdaq Composite Index soar to its highest close yet.

The Labor Department reported nonfarm payrolls grew 43,000 in February, the smallest increase since May 1999 and vs. expectations for a more robust tally of 206,000. The unemployment rate rose to 4.1% vs. 4% in January. Average hourly earnings rose 0.3%, in line with expectations.

The report did not dispel the widely held belief that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates at its March 21 meeting, but it calmed lingering concerns about a 50-basis-point hike. It also cheered investors concerned that tight labor markets would compel the central bank to continue raising interest rates for many months thereafter.

"The psychology has been 'they'll be raising rates forever.' Now it doesn't look that way," said Tony Dwyer, chief market strategist at Kirlin Holdings. "Today's number changes the landscape."

However, Bruce Steinberg, chief economist at Merrill Lynch, took a less sanguine view.

"In our view, this data was essentially a correction for the last two reports," Steinberg wrote this morning. "Job growth for the last three months averages 245,000 per month, still well above what the Fed considers desirable, in our view."

The jobless rate will "probably" fall below 4% in the coming months, Steinberg predicted, suggesting the Fed will maintain an aggressive stance.

But for one day -- at least -- those concerns were cast aside.

After rising as high as 10,443.52, the Dow closed up 202.28, or 2%, to 10,367.20, continuing its comeback from a big slide highlighted by last Friday's close below 10,000.

The index's fifth consecutive gain was inspired by strength in technology components such as IBM (IBM:NYSE) and Hewlett Packard (HWP:NYSE), and economically sensitive names such as General Electric (GE:NYSE), DuPont (DD:NYSE) and 3M (MMM:NYSE).

We Have Tech, We Have Liftoff

With its large-cap heavyweights such as Microsoft (MSFT:Nasdaq), Intel (INTC:Nasdaq), Oracle (ORCL:Nasdaq) and Cisco (CSCO:Nasdaq) rising in concert with smaller names, the Nasdaq jumped 160.26, or 3.4%, to 4914.77. The point gain is the Comp's third-biggest ever and led to the index's 14th record of 2000. And yes, it's just 85.23 points from 5000.

The Nasdaq 100 rose 4.9%, the Morgan Stanley High Tech 35 rose 3.8%, and the Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index jumped 6.6%; each established an all-time high.

The Comp was further enlivened by gains from smaller tech and biotech names such as Paging Network (PAGE:Nasdaq), Nexell Therapeutics (NEXL:Nasdaq) and General Magic (GMGC:Nasdaq); each rose more than 20%.

Additionally, new issues enjoyed stellar gains, including AsiaInfo (ASIA:Nasdaq), up 309%.

"It's not the big 'new economy' stocks that are driving [the rally], it's the small- and medium-caps," Dwyer said. Most tech bellwethers are "nowhere near new 52-week highs, but the Russell 2000 and Comp continue to make new highs."

Indeed, the Russell rose 13.84, or 2.4%, to 597.88, eclipsing its previous high of 588.35, and the American Stock Exchange Composite Index gained 10.21, or 1%, to a record 1013.71.

The action "is a sign of a speculative bubble," Dwyer said, but "until it shows a sign of peaking, there's no gain in trying to predict it."

Historical precedent suggests "there's no doubt this is going to have an ugly ending," he conceded. "But we've been saying that for the last two years [and] if you watch the tape it's saying the formula ain't working."

TheStreet.com Internet Sector index rose 56.99, or 4.9%, to a record 1221.10 behind strength in Inktomi (INKT:Nasdaq), up 10.3% after Merrill Lynch upped its price target.

TheStreet.com New Tech 30 rose 73.50, or 9.4% to 855.61, thanks to big gains by Ariba (ARBA:Nasdaq) and Exodus Communications (EXDS:Nasdaq); each set a 2-for-1 stock split. Unveiled Jan. 5, the TSC New Tech 30 is a market-cap-weighted index focusing on tracking the so-called hot money part of the market. A list of index components is available at http://www.thestreet.com/newtech/.

Strength Extends Across Industries

The S&P; 500 rose 27.41, or 2%, to 1409.17 amid broad strength in major industry groups. Standouts included the Morgan Stanley Cyclical Index, up 2.8%, the American Stock Exchange Broker/Dealer Index, which rose 3.4%, and the American Stock Exchange Biotech Index, higher by 6.4%.

"We certainly saw a recovery in cyclicals but I don't think it's going to be long-lived," said Rob Cohen, co-head of listed trading at Credit Suisse First Boston. "It wasn't like people were selling the techs to buy cyclicals [and] I can't imagine one day's economic statistics are going to take people of Fed death watch."

Still, the action today was a "powerful statement" as to the "amount of cash" ready to be put to work on favorable news, Cohen said.

Last night, AMG Data Services reported that $10.3 billion flowed into equity funds for the week ended March 1, with nearly half into small-cap and aggressive growth funds.

Also, "a fair amount of shorts anticipating another weak Friday" were squeezed by upward tide, the trader said.

In New York Stock Exchange trading, 1.155 billion shares were exchanged while advancers led declining stocks 1,713 to 1,252. In Nasdaq Stock Market action 2.125 billion shares traded -- the third-busiest session ever -- while gainers led 2,576 to 1,646. New 52-week lows bested new highs 125 to 108 on the Big Board while new highs routed new lows 445 to 84 in over-the-counter trading.

Among other indices, the Dow Jones Transportation Average rose 80.52, or 3.4%, to 2434.45; the Dow Jones Utility Average added 2.22, or 0.8%, to 290.20.

For the week, the Dow rose 5.1%; the S&P; 500 added 5.7%; the Nasdaq Comp leapt 8.4%; the Russell 2000 advanced 7.4%; the DOT jumped 3.8%; the New Tech 30 hopped 10%; the Dow transportation average rose 3.5%; the Dow utility average rose 3.6%; and the Amex composite added 7.4%.

Palm Holders All Sweaty

Missing out on the tech rally was Palm (PALM:Nasdaq), which fell 15.6% following yesterday's big IPO.

Still, Palm has a market-cap of $45.1 billion vs. 3Com (COMS:Nasdaq), which still owns 94.8% of Palm shares but has a market cap of $28.4 billion. 3Com rose 1.4% today.

The discrepancy remains a hot topic among Wall Street pros.

"Anybody interested in owning Palm is much better off buying shares of 3Com, as long as you believe they'll follow through with their promise" to divest the Palm shares in six months, said David Brail, president of risk arbitrage firm Palestra Capital (and a contributor to this site).

Like many arbitragers, Brail said he'd like to be long 3Com and short Palm, because with 1.55 shares of Palm imbedded in each 3Com share "plus the parent's assets, under no case are you worse off owning 3Com shares."

But that trade is currently impossible because "there's no shares of Palm available to be borrowed," he said, given only 23 million shares were offered to the public yesterday.

More than short-selling, today's decline was a function of the fact Palm "opened at an absurd valuation yesterday and now it's digesting" that move, Brail added.

See TheStreet.com's full site for more of its unique insider's perspective on Wall Street. Try a 30-day subscription for free!

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