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25 April 2024

Wall Street breaks for Christmas with healthy gains

By Agencies

Wall Street heads into the Christmas week on a merry note with fears abating about a widening financial crisis and a potential recession in the world's biggest economy.

Despite persistent worries about a credit squeeze that could choke off economic growth, the main stock indexes posted healthy gains in the week before Christmas.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 0.85 per cent for the week to Friday to 13,450.65 and the broad market Standard & Poor's 500 advanced 1.1 per cent to 1,484.46.

The technology-heavy Nasdaq composite rallied 2.1 per cent to 2,691.99.

With three full trading sessions left for 2007 and shortened trading days December 24 and 31, the Dow is holding a gain for the year of 7.9 per cent, with the S&P up 4.7 per cent and Nasdaq 11.5 per cent.

Some analysts say the market could build on those gains around the holidays in the so-called Santa Claus rally effect.

"It has been observed by the Stock Trader's Almanac that the period covering the last five trading days of a year and the first two trading days of the new year often produces a respectable rally," said Jeffrey Ham at Briefing.com.

Volatile trade in the past few months has been marked by worries that the crises that began with a meltdown in housing and spread to the banking and finance sector would drag the overall economy lower.

But data in recent days suggests US consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of economic activity, is holding firm. That along with rising exports may keep the US economy above water, some analysts say. One report showed November consumer spending up a solid 1.1 per cent.

"December data should confirm that the US isn't in recession, or at least wasn't as of the fourth quarter," said Avery Shenfeld, senior economist at CIBC World Markets.

"Look for the tone for much of the coming month to be set by the employment data, given that job growth is now the key bulwark against recession."

Citigroup economist Robert DiClemente said recession talk is still prominent but that a downturn may be averted if the Federal Reserve plays its cards right after cutting rates by a full percentage point since September.

"There are reasons to be optimistic that the economy will muddle through this mess with continued help from policy," he said.

"We expect the Fed to continue cutting rates by at least 75 basis points in coming months and that these actions will provide a measure of financial stability sufficient to quarantine the remaining drag from housing and its spillover."

Sherry Cooper, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets, is more worried, saying that credit is drying up in the banking system and that central banks such as the Fed have done too little too late, leaving the US and other economies at risk.

"The US housing collapse has already frozen financial markets and raised the cost of capital for all but triple-A rated governments, generating enormous losses at financial institutions of all sorts," she said.

"My sense is the prospects of US recession are rising fast and the next pipedream to burst will be the theoretical decoupling of the emerging economies from troubles in the US economy."

Bond prices rose in the week. The yield on the 10-year Treasury bond eased to 4.168 per cent from 4.232 per cent a week earlier, and that on the 30-year Treasury fell to 4.575 per cent from 4.658 per cent. Bond prices and yields move in opposite directions. (AFP)