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Wall St. Week Ahead: Dow to Run at 10,000
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks look set to float upward next week, with the Dow closing in on the psychologically sensitive 10,000 level, as investors expect the Federal Reserve (news - web sites) to leave interest rates unchanged at its Tuesday meeting, keeping the economy pumped with cheap money.
Stocks took a knock on Friday as the government's monthly job report showed companies hired far fewer workers than expected in November. But investors may now take the view that the soggy job situation will deter the Fed from raising rates any time soon.
That should help stocks continue their 9-month rally, which has been driven by companies notching higher profits and consumers borrowing money at low rates to buy goods.
"The Fed is the biggie next week," said Peter Dunay, chief market strategist at brokerage Wall Street Access. "The employment was a little weaker, so the likelihood is very good that the Fed will be on hold throughout 2004."
That is slightly behind the timing predicted by most Wall Street economists, who expect the Fed to hike rates around the middle of next year, according to a poll by Reuters on Friday.
Even if the Fed tinkers with the wording of its highly scrutinized pronouncement, expected at 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday, economists say the central message will remain that inflation is still so low that there is no pressing need to raise rates.
"They want to keep the floodgates open," Dunay said.
That should give stocks room to run at new 2003 highs, unless other data, corporate news. or events in Iraq (news - web sites) upset investors' mood.
"One argument as to why the market should go up farther is that there is a wall of money that is sitting in cash, just waiting to rush into stocks," said Gordon Fowler, chief investment officer at fund manager Glenmede Trust Co., in his weekly stocks outlook.
"This may be true, but it is perhaps far from reassuring if that wall of money rushes into the market and pushes stock valuations to unrealistic extremes," Fowler said.
That appears to be what happened with technology stocks this week as the tech-focused Nasdaq Composite Index (^IXIC - news) hit the 2,000 level on Wednesday for the first time since January 2002. The index promptly plummeted, as investors took the opportunity to sell shares at long-time highs, and the Nasdaq finished the week down 1.14 percent at 1,937.82.
The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI - news) rose 0.82 percent this week to close at 9,862.68, after setting an 18-month high at 9,942 during the day on Wednesday. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 Index (^SPX - news) rose 0.31 percent this week, to close Friday at 1,061.50, after hitting an 18-month high at 1,074 during Wednesday's session.
Gains in the coming week would push the Dow closer to the 10,000 mark, which it first broke through on March 29, 1999, as stocks soared in the long 1990s bull market. The Dow last touched 10,000 on May 31, 2002.
"My gut feeling is that it will do it the week of Dec. 19, which is option expiry," Dunay said. "We will see 10,000, but it won't hold, and then we'll solidly get through 10,000 at the start of 2004." (Wall St Week Ahead runs weekly. Comments or questions on this column can be e-mailed to bill.rigby(at)reuters.com.)
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