Thursday, May 15, 2008

Stocks Blast Higher on Options, Optimism

With Wednesday's rally truncated late in the day, investors - apparently not content to sit back and wait - sent stocks higher on Thursday in brisk trading. The S&P, NASDAQ and NYSE Composite all were up more than 1% on the day, breaking through key levels while the Dow Jones Industrials struggled just below the key 13,000 mark.

Dow 12,992.66 +94.28; NASDAQ 2,533.73 +37.03; S&P 500 1,423.57 +14.91; NYSE Composite 9,553.52 +116.07

Spurring investors were a recent spate of corporate mergers and maneuvers, including Hewlett Packad's (HPQ) $13.9 billion purchase of Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and General Electric's (GE) decision to sell off its appliance division.

Also helping investors make stock buying decisions were a number of economic reports, including figures from the NY and Philadelphia Fed, which both saw declines in economic activity, though Philly's was not as severe as expected. Still, the Empire State Index unexpectedly fell to -3.23, while the Philadelphia Fed's General Economic Index improved to -15.6, from -24.9 in April. Manufacturing in the region, however, continued a precipitous decline.

New unemployment claims increased only 6,000 for the week, to 371,000. National industrial production slumped 0.7%, and capacity utilization fell a negligible 0.1% to 79.9%.

Somehow, all of this is viewed on Wall Street as good news. Naturally, one has to view today's gains in the context of options expiration, which occurs tomorrow.

Oil moderated again, losing 26 cents, to close at $123.85 per barrel. Gold, +13.50 finished at $880.00, with silver tacking on 7 cents per ounce to $16.69.

Advancing issues outdid decliners, 3960-2033. Somewhat against the grain, new lows recaptured the lead from new highs, 173-169, suggesting that options activity actually had more to do with today's trading than some optimistic sentiment or market fundamentals, as investors may have been bottom fishing on puts and out of money calls about to expire.

Trading volume was solid, though unspectacular. The markets appear to be doing little more than treading water, however, as the major indices are at roughly the same levels as two weeks ago, except the NASDAQ, which has continued to move forward, but is still down roughly 4% on the year.

NYSE Volume 1,194,660,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,242,104,000

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