Stocks Finish Higher on Hopes for Recovery

Investors will contend with reports due Friday on consumer confidence, jobless claims, home sales and durable goods orders

Stocks climbed to finish with solid gains Thursday as investors shook off concerns over the latest pile of economic data due on Friday and focused on hopes for a better 2002.

A lack of major economic data and corporate news kept trading quiet, and modestly higher, on Thursday. As a tumultuous year draws to a close, investors will be busy with end-of-year tax selling and other portfolio adjustments.

Activity could pick up, however, as investors look to highly-anticipated economic data due Friday, notes Standard & Poor's. Updates on weekly initial jobless claims, November durable goods orders, November new and existing home sales and December consumer confidence will be released Friday.

Wednesday's positive news about holiday sales from retailers carried through to Thursday's session. Wal-Mart Stores (WMT ), Internet sites like Yahoo (YHOO ) and jewelry retailers lifted spirits and expectations for an economic recovery with their news of relatively strong sales. On Thursday, some specialty apparel retailers such as Gap (GPS ) rallied.

Among Nasdaq stocks, brand-name technology issues like Cisco (CSCO ) and Oracle (ORCL ) also rose from the suggestion that the recession will be short-lived. And upbeat comments from investment firms on Advanced Micro Devices (AMD ) and Atmel Corp. (ATML ) lent a hand to the chip sector.

But many oil-related stocks gave back Wednesday's gains after Saudi Arabia's oil minister said that OPEC will agree Friday to cut output in an effort to raise prices.

Among other stocks on the move Thursday, energy equipment maker Stewart & Stevenson Services Inc. (SSSS ) said it was awarded a $374 million contract to build trucks and trailers for the U.S. Army, extending an existing contract for another year.

The Dow Jones industrial average finished up 43.17 points, or 0.43%, to 10,131.31. The Nasdaq composite index gained 15.72 points, or 0.80%, to 1,976.42. The broader S&P index rose 7.76 points, or 0.68%, to 1,157.13.

Treasury Market

U.S. Treasuries finished higher ahead of a full day of economic data Friday. Traders are also digesting better-than-expected results of a record $23 billion auction of 2-year notes. Though prices should remain jumpy as the week and calendar year ends, this bullish result should bolster prices along the curve at least temporarily, S&P's economists note.

S&P is expecting a rise of 6,000 claims to the 390,000 level in the latest update to initial jobless claims for the week ending Dec. 22, due on Friday. S&P expects the four-week moving average to be 26,000 lower to the 412,000 level.

S&P economists expect durable orders to drop 5.0% and shipments to increase 1.5%, with an offset for the surge in defense aircraft spending seen in October. Outside of this swing, the general tone of the report should be consistent with the view that conditions in the factory sector

Home sales should post a modest rise during November, as unseasonably warm weather will likely boost the seasonally adjusted sales figures in the Northwest and Midwest, according to S&P. New homes sales are expected to rise 0.6% to an 885,000 unit pace while existing home sales should gain 0.6% to a 5.20 million unit rate.

December consumer confidence should rise to 83.0, which represents a modest improvement over the 82.2 reading in November, S&P predicts. Present situations is expected to reveal little change from November's 93.5. Expectations is seen improving to 76.0 from 74.6.

World Markets

European markets finished higher on optimism from a strong performance by U.S. stocks over the extended holiday and strength in oil and petroleum stocks. In London, the Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 finished up 35.80 points, or 0.69%, to 5,213.20. In Germany, the DAX index finished with a gain of 98.12 points, or 1.95%, to 5,117.13. France's CAC 40 index ended higher by 89.06 points, or 1.98%, to 4,591.16.

In Asia, stocks rallied, with help from better-than-expected retail sales announced in the U.S. Wednesday. The falling value of the yen against the dollar also drew buyers. Japan's Nikkei 225 index soared 265.04 points, or 2.60%, to 10,457.61. In Hong Kong, markets rose 149.72 points, or 1.34%, to 11,359.50.

By Amy Tsao

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.