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Bank, technology stocks lure in bargain hunters

INVESTORS shoved aside jitters about the economy to do a little bargain hunting.

Stocks rose yesterday after mostly falling for three days as traders scooped up beaten-down financial and technology stocks. The buying was subdued after a worse-than-expected weekly unemployment report added to concerns that the economic recovery might not come as quickly as hoped.

The market is down sharply this week as investors worry that the optimism that fed a massive spring rally might have been premature. The Standard & Poor's 500 index is still 32 percent above the 12-year low it hit in early March.

The Dow Jones industrial average ended up 46 points, but lagged gains by the S& P 500 and Nasdaq composite index. Financial stocks rose after falling earlier in the week and lifted the KBW Bank Index 3.7 percent.

Technology shares gained after software maker CA Inc. said Wednesday that its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings rose as cost-cutting stayed ahead of a drop in revenue.

The advance came as the market grappled with another reminder of the strained job market. The Labor Department's weekly data showed more workers filing for unemployment benefits. New claims jumped to 637,000, above what economists had forecast.

The overall number of people seeking unemployment benefits grew faster than expected, rising to 6.6 million, while continuing claims hit a 15th straight weekly record.

Analysts had expected some rebound after stocks tumbled Wednesday, sending the S&P 500 index down 2.7 percent. The market was shaken by a Commerce Department report that retail sales fell unexpectedly in April for the second straight month, and by a separate report that showed home foreclosures rising.

The twin hits to two key areas of the economy - consumer spending and the housing market - have led investors to drop stocks this week and seek the shelter of bonds. That put on hold a powerful rally that carried the market through March and April.

"Expectations got overblown and the harsh unfortunate reality is that unemployment continues to climb and that consumers remain under pressure," said Stuart Schweitzer, global markets strategist at J.P. Morgan's Private Bank.

The Dow rose 46.43, or 0.6 percent, to 8,331.32. The S&P 500 index rose 9.15, or 1 percent, to 893.07, while the Nasdaq rose 25.02, or 1.5 percent, to 1,689.21.

More than two stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to a light 1.5 billion shares.

Regional banks Fifth Third Bancorp and Huntington Bancshares Inc. showed some of the strongest gains. Fifth Third rose 50 cents, or 7.1 percent, to US$7.52. Huntington rose 31 cents, or 7 percent, to US$4.72.

CA, which makes software to run information technology systems, rose 98 cents, or 5.7 percent, to US$18.30.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. fell 93 cents to US$49.10 after its first-quarter results failed to excite the market. Urban Outfitters Inc. rose 21 cents to US$19.51 after posting results that beat forecasts.

Kohl's Corp. fell 71 cents to US$41.24 after its report.

Michael Strauss, chief economist and market strategist at Commonfund, said some traders had been expecting an increase in weekly unemployment claims because of expected shutdowns among the nation's automakers.

Ford Motor Co. rose 20 cents, or 4 percent, to US$5.16 after its chief executive, Alan Mulally, said at the company's annual meeting that the automaker is continuing to slash costs and boosting development of safe, fuel-efficient vehicles. Shareholders approved the company's request to issue stock to help pay some of its health care obligations to retired autoworkers.

In other trading, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 8.89, or 1.9 percent, to 480.71.

Bond prices were mixed after rising a day earlier. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, a widely used benchmark for loans including home mortgages, fell to 3.09 percent from 3.12 percent late Wednesday.


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