Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Stocks tip-toe higher

Stocks churned Wednesday morning, as investors digested the previous session's massive rally and geared up for an expected interest rate cut from the Federal Reserve.

A surprise jump in durable goods orders, Procter & Gamble's better-than-expected results and GM's weak global sales report were also in the mix.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) added a few points around 45 minutes into the session. The Standard & Poor's 500 (SPX) index and the Nasdaq composite (COMP) both posted declines.

On Tuesday, the Dow surged 889 points, its second-best single-day point gain ever, as investors scooped up a variety of shares hit in the recent retreat. In percentage terms, the advance of 10.9% was the sixth biggest ever. The S&P 500 jumped 10.8% and the Nasdaq composite jumped 9.5%.

The big advance occurred Tuesday as the two-day Federal Reserve meeting got underway, with a decision on interest rates expected Wednesday afternoon at around 2:15 p.m. ET.

Policymakers are widely expected to cut the fed funds rate, a key short-term interest rate, by half a percentage point to 1.5%. The Fed issued an emergency half-point interest rate cut on Oct. 8th as part of its efforts to calm roiling financial markets and get banks to start lending to each other again.

Meanwhile, the credit market continued to improve, with Libor, the overnight bank-to-bank lending rate, falling to 1.14% from 1.24% the previous day, according to Dow Jones. The 3-month Libor fell to 3.42% from 3.47%. (Full story)

Treasury prices slipped, raising the yield on the benchmark 10-year note yield to 3.81% from 3.77% late Tuesday. Treasury prices and yields move in opposite directions.

Economy: Ahead of the Federal Reserve decision, investors mulled a better-than-expected durable goods orders report.

The Commerce Department said new orders for big-ticket items - including cars and appliances - rose 0.8% in September versus forecasts for a drop of 1.1%. Orders fell a revised 5.5% in August.

Results: A variety of companies were reporting quarterly results as the third-quarter reporting period hit its midpoint.

Dow component Procter & Gamble (PG, Fortune 500) reported higher quarterly sales and earnings in the fiscal first-quarter that topped estimates. However, the consumer products maker also said that full-year earnings could be weaker than previously expected. P&G fell 3%.

Fellow Dow component General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) reported a steep drop in global third-quarter sales. North American sales fell 19% in the quarter versus a year ago. GM shares rose 3.5%.

Another Dow component, Kraft Foods (KFT, Fortune 500), said third-quarter profit more than doubled due to a one-time gain resulting from its $2.6 billion sale of its Post cereals unit.

Other markets: The dollar tumbled versus both the euro and the yen.

U.S. light crude oil for December delivery rallied $3.84 to $66.57 a barrel, after ending the previous session at a 17-month low.

Gasoline prices fell another 4 cents overnight, to a national average of $2.589 a gallon, according to a survey of credit-card activity by motorist group AAA. It was the 42nd consecutive day that prices have decreased. During that time, prices have fallen by $1.26 a gallon, or nearly 33%.

COMEX gold for December delivery rallied $22 to $762.50 an ounce

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