February 21, 2012 in Business

Dow breaks 13,000 for first time since ’08 crisis

Associated Press
 
AP/Seth Wenig photo

Former First Lady Laura Bush, second from right, rings the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange before in New York today. U.S. stocks are opening higher and the Dow Jones industrial average is nearing 13,000 after Greece secured a bailout deal to keep it from default.
(Full-size photo)

NEW YORK — The Dow Jones industrial average crossed 13,000 today for the first time since May 2008, when the Lehman Brothers investment bank was solvent, unemployment a healthy 5.4 percent and the worst of the Great Recession months ahead.

The milestone came about two hours into the trading day. The stock market got the final push from strong corporate earnings reports and a Greek bailout deal intended to prevent the next financial crisis.

The Dow last closed above 13,000 on May 19, 2008. The next day, it crossed under 13,000, not to return for almost four years. The Dow fell as low as 6,547 on March 9, 2009. It has almost doubled since then.

The 13,000 level is a psychological milepost, but in a market built on perception, it could influence more cautious investors to pump more money back into the stock market, analysts said.

“You need notches along the way to measure things, and that’s as good as any,” said John Manley, chief equity strategist for Wells Fargo’s funds group. “Is 50 older than 49 and a half? Yes, by six months. Do those six months really make a difference? Probably not. But it does give us a fixed point, something we can look at.”

Stocks dropped back slightly after hitting the mark. Just after 11:45 a.m. EST, the Dow was up 37 points at 12,987. In other trading, the Standard & Poor’s 500 was up five points at 1,366. The Nasdaq composite index was up nine points at 2,961.

Just last summer, the Dow unburdened itself of 2,000 points in three terrifying weeks. S&P downgraded the United States credit rating, Washington was fighting over the federal borrowing limit, and the European debt crisis was raging.

The Dow fell as low as 10,655 in the fall. The 13,000 marker is a 22 percent rally from that low. The Dow is within 1,200 points of its all-time closing high — 14,164, set Oct. 9, 2007.

Under the bailout deal, Greece will get (euro) 130 billion, or about $172 billion, from other European nations and the International Monetary Fund. It will also owe (euro) 107 billion less to investors who own its government bonds.

After months of the talks crawling along and vague headlines yanking the market up and down, the conclusion was almost anticlimactic, with an agreement already expected by the markets.

European markets fell after the Greece deal was announced. Stocks were down almost 4 percent in Greece, a little more than 1 percent in Spain and less than 1 percent in France and Britain. But the euro rose slightly at $1.32, which could be seen as a sign of confidence in European markets.

Investors noted that Greece remains in deep recession. Its private-sector investors were also forced to take a 53.5 percent loss on the face value of their bonds, which could discourage future investment.

The U.S. stock market has climbed steadily this year, primarily because of optimism about the economy. High gasoline prices are emerging as a chief concern for the economic recovery for the rest of the year, though.

A gallon of regular costs $3.57 on average, 40 cents more than a year ago and the highest on record for this time of year. With tension building over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Iran has halted oil exports to Britain and France and threatened to stop shipping to other European countries.

On Tuesday, U.S. markets enjoyed strong earnings reports from several big-name companies, including Home Depot and Dollar Thrifty. The exception was Wal-Mart, which reported a 15 percent drop in quarterly profits.

Overall, though, investors seemed comfortable moving money into the higher-risk stock market and out of safer investments like government bonds. The yield on the government’s benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.05 percent from 2.01 percent Friday, a sign that fewer investors wanted the bonds.

Among big movers today:

—Wal-Mart fell 4 percent after missing analysts’ expectations for revenue and per-share earnings. The world’s biggest retailer has lost some of its momentum in the past couple of years with strategic errors like a brief foray away from “everyday low prices,” which turned off cash-strapped bargain hunters, and a short attempt to declutter its shelves and offer fewer items, which turned off customers who went there for the convenience.

—Home Depot rose 2 percent after beating analysts’ expectations for revenue and per-share earnings. The home-repair giant has been hurt by the dour housing market, which has led homeowners to take on fewer expensive home renovations. Warm weather helped drive small-scale home projects in the latest quarter.

—Barnes & Noble climbed 5 percent despite missing expectations on revenue and per-share earnings, as rising costs offset higher sales of both traditional books and digital books. But investors seemed encouraged that the bookstore chain, a survivor in an era that has felled competitors like Borders and Waldenbooks, plans to introduce a cheaper Nook to compete with Amazon’s Kindle Fire. It’s also been shifting store inventory away from books toward games, toys and other gifts, a strategy that seems to be paying off.

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