Stocks Finish Higher

Upbeat quarterly earnings news from AT&T, eBay, and others boosted investor sentiment

Stocks finished with modest gains Wednesday, as better-than-expected earnings reports from a number of large companies lifted investor sentiment. Some indexes pushed past three-month highs, as buyers brushed off a downbeat Fed Beige Book report that indicated a "lackluster" economy in March and early April.

Telecom and technology stocks led the way higher, pushing the Nasdaq composite index up 14.8 points, or 1.02%, to 1,466.16. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 30.6 points, or 0.36%, to 8,515.66. The broader Standard & Poor's 500-stock index added 7.65 points, or 0.84%, to 919.02.

The upbeat tone was set after Tuesday's close. Internet auctioneer eBay (EBAY ) said first-quarter profits doubled from the previous year and raised its guidance for the rest of 2003. Biotech giant Amgen (AMGN ) also reported a solid rise in profits.

Before the bell, AOL Time Warner (AOL ) reported a first-quarter profit of 9 cents a share, exceeding Wall Street estimates.

In the telecommunications sector, AT&T (T ) rallied after it beat first-quarter earnings estimates, and said it expects to meet or exceed previous 2003 revenue and operating income guidance. AT&T also denied news reports that it was considering a merger with BellSouth (BLS ), which also reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit Wednesday.

Aerospace manufacturer Boeing (BA ) announced a better-than-expected EPS number.

Fellow Dow component Eastman Kodak (EK ) met earnings per share expectations. The stock declined 5% Wednesday and weighed on the Dow average.

Embattled AMR (AMR ), the parent of American Airlines, posted a $1.04 billion loss for the first quarter. The carrier recently reached an agreement with its unions to save $1.8 billion in labor costs in an attempt to avoid bankruptcy.

Still more earnings reports are due Thursday. Big companies scheduled to release results include: Aetna (AET ), American Express (AXP ), International Paper (IP ), SBC Communications (SBC ), and Dow Chemical (DOW ).

In commodities news, oil prices were lower, as Saudi Arabia warned of a possible oil glut with the addition of Iraqi reserves to the marketplace.

Treasury Market

Prices of U.S. Treasuries were locked in a narrow range trade Wednesday, unaffected by the Treasury's $27 billion 2-year note sale and the Fed's Beige Book, says economic research outfit MMS International. The 10-year note fell in price, while other issues finished around unchanged levels. A lack of data, scant market moving events, and a quiet stock market left Treasuries without inspiration or direction, says MMS. After the close, Greenspan said he would accept a renomination as Federal Reserve Chairman.

The Fed's Beige Book compiled by the regional Federal Reserve banks showed a continued softening of the economy. Reports on consumer spending were weak, although weather was blamed for much of the problem, notes S&P.

On tap Thursday: reports on durable goods orders and initial jobless claims. MMS International expects jobless claims to fall by 7,000 to 435,000 in the week ended Apr. 19. This report has been quite volatile in recent weeks.

MMS projects both durable orders and shipments to decrease 0.5% in March. Inventories are expected to be flat, which follows declines in 24 out of the last 25 months.

Friday's gross domestic product figure is also keenly anticipated.

World Markets

European stock markets finished higher Wednesday. London's FTSE index was up 48.8 points, or 1.25%, to 3,966.5. In Paris, the CAC 40 index rose 48.07 points, or 1.65%, to 2,962.67. In Frankfurt, the DAX index increased 13.44 points, or 0.45%, to 2,974.4.

In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index finished Wednesday's session higher by 2.92 points, or 0.04%, at 7,793.38. Meanwhile, Hong Kong's benchmark Hang Seng index lost 52.31 points, or 0.61%, to 8,519.6.

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