Stocks Finish Higher

Market sentiment for the last few trading days of 2004 looks cautiously optimistic

Stocks ended higher Wednesday, continuing Tuesday's yearend rally, on the heels of a sharp drop in crude oil prices. While the Dow reached its highest closing level in over three years, Wall Street sentiment for stocks remains cautiously optimistic about performance through year-end, according to S&P MarketScope.

The Dow Jones industrial average ended higher by 56.46 points, or 0.52%, to 10,815.89. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 4.12 points, or 0.34%, to 1,209.57. The Nasdaq composite index rose 6.12 points, or 0.28%, to 2,157.03.

The markets will be closed Friday, Dec. 24, in observance of the Christmas holiday.

Looking ahead, Thursday brings a packed economic calander with weekly jobless claims, monthly durable goods orders, and consumer spending data reports all due out by 8:30 a.m. ET. Then both consumer sentiment reports and new home sales figures are due out later in the morning.

On the earnings front, greeting card maker American Greetings (AM ) is scheduled to release earnings per share Thursday.

Two major economic reports were released Wednesday. The U.S. GDP revision, perhaps the broadest barometer of the country's economic health, showed a slightly bigger than expected 4.0% third-quarter gain, but the data had little impact on the markets Wednesday.

The weekly EIA petroleum status report drove the market, reporting better-than-expected inventory data. Crude stocks rose 2.1 million barrels, while distillates, expected to have fallen by 1 million barrels, actually rose by 600,ooo barrels.

The benchmark NYMEX crude oil price ended lower Wednesday, down $1.52 per barrel to $44.24.

Fannie Mae (FNM ) dominated corporate news Wednesday, after its CEO and its CFO were forced to step down after regulators found accounting deficiencies at the mortgage-finance giant. Boeing (BA ) also made headlines shares after reporting a $4 billion deal with Japan Airlines for the purchase of 30 7E7 Dreamliners plus an option for 20 more. Both stocks ended higher Wednesday.

On the downside, Microsoft (MSFT ) will be forced to change its commercial practices according to a European Union court ruling handed down Wednesday, which denied the tech giant's antitrust appeal. Shares ended down slightly.

Treasury Market

Treasuries endured choppy trade, as the lack of liquidity added to Wednesday's volatility, as treasuries showed little reaction to the GDP data. The benchmark 10-year yield ended at 4.20%. The bond market will close early at 2:00 p.m. ET Thursday.

With choppy price action and overall muted interest, the U.S. dollar ended lower Wednesday versus the euro, even as U.S equities climbed and oil prices fell below $45 per barrel. Analysts at Action Economics predict Thursday will be hectic with a number of data releases in a holiday shortened session.

World Markets

European markets ended higher Wednesday.

The Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index in London was up 44.50 points, or 0.94%, to 4,777.50.

Germany's DAX index gained 26.89 points, or 0.64%, to 4,241.28.

In Paris, The CAC 40 rose 36.12 points, or 0.96%%, to 3,806.15.

Asian markets ended mixed on Wednesday on the back of a rally in U.S. stocks overnight, with chip stocks getting a boost from Intel's (INTC ) surge on Tuesday.

Japan's Nikkei average rose 83.52 points, or 0.75%, to 11209.44, adding to 1.84% gains in the past three trading days.

In Hong Kong, In Hong Kong, the benchmark Hang Seng Index was rangebound due to lack of catalysts. It ended down 29.71 points, or 0.21%, to 14,151.08.

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