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Optimism lifts blue chips to new highs

NEW YORK – The Dow Jones industrial average reached another record close on Tuesday as investors largely looked past economic and earnings reports that had stirred concerns about the health of the economy. The Standard & Poor’s 500 also rose, but the Nasdaq fell.

Blue chips managed the gains despite a government report that inflation at the wholesale level saw its biggest jump in more than 30 years in November as gas prices inched higher.

Many investors were also uneasy after the stock market in Thailand plunged Tuesday following announcement by the Thai government of controls on foreign investment. The government backed off some of the restrictions after Thailand’s benchmark SET Index fell 14.8 percent and touched off concerns about a repeat of the economic crisis that rattled Asia in 1997.

“People are fundamentally optimistic and that’s containing the downside risk for the present,” said Stuart Schweitzer, global markets strategist at JPMorgan Asset & Wealth Management.

The Dow rose 30.05, or 0.24 percent, to 12,471.32. The finish eclipsed the last record close of 12,445.52, which came Friday. The Dow also set a new trading high of 12,491.91; previously it was 12,490.70.

The S&P 500 index rose 3.07, or 0.22 percent, to 1,425.55, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 6.02, or 0.25 percent, to 2,429.55.

Bonds were little moved, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note flat at 4.59 percent from late Monday. The dollar was lower against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

“I think fundamentally the economy seems on track for a safe landing in 2007, but with some unsettling bumps along the way,” Schweitzer said.

Markets displayed little reaction to comments by Dallas Federal Reserve President Robert W. Fisher, who said in a speech Tuesday that inflation remains troublesome for the economy and that an increase in interest rates could be warranted.

The central bank has left short-term interest rates unchanged at its last four meetings, interrupting a string of 17 straight increases that began in 2004. Investors have been hoping for a rate cut as they try to determine whether the Fed can cool the economy without pushing it into recession.

Seemingly at odds with recent inflation reports, the Labor Department said Tuesday that the Producer Price Index, a measure of inflation at the wholesale level, jumped 2 percent in November. While an increase had been expected following two months of declines, the rise far outstripped the 0.5 percent increase analysts had been expecting. The core PPI figure, which excludes often volatile energy and food prices, rose 1.3 percent.

“The PPI is a reminder that there may be a two-way inflation risk in the near-term,” Schweitzer said. “That creates the specter of some uncomfortable moments for some investors who might have looked for an early Fed ease.”

In other economic news, the Commerce Department said construction of homes and apartments increased by 6.7 percent in November but also that applications for permits to build homes declined for the 10th straight month.

Bryan Piskorowski, market analyst at Wachovia Securities, said the PPI report and an upbeat reading last week on the level of inflation at the consumer level raised questions about how corporate profits will hold up.

“It could have some negative implications for corporate profits in the sense that somebody has to get squeezed here,” he said. He noted Wall Street had already generally expected profits would be lower next year.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 0.08, or 0.01 percent, to 782.10.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 1.09 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 closed down 0.70 percent, Germany’s DAX index fell 0.66 percent, and France’s CAC-40 was down 0.82 percent.


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