Stocks Gain in Quiet Session

Stocks got a boost Thursday from retail and technology shares as money managers stuffed their portfolios with some recent winners before year-end.

The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average rose 43.17 points, or 0.43 percent, to 10,131.31. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 Index added 7.76 points, or 0.68 percent, to 1,157.13. The technology-packed Nasdaq Composite Index gained 15.72 points, or 0.80 percent, to 1,976.42.

The market has gained this week on expectations the economy will claw out of its recession in 2002, but concerns that stocks have become too pricey and are running ahead of earnings prospects are capping gains.

Stocks are poised to wrap up their second dismal year in a row, but the market has surged since sinking to three-year lows on Sept. 21 after the assault on the United States.

"I'm optimistic going into 2002,'' said Jon Burnham, who oversees $180 million for Burnham Asset Management. "Interest rates are low, the Fed is pumping money into the system, I think we'll get a decent-sized tax cut ... early next year, and there's been a tremendous reduction of oil costs, which is like an immediate tax cut.''

Upbeat comments on Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Atmel Corp. from investment firms boosted chip shares. Retailers such as Gap and Target Corp. rose on hopes the holiday shopping season was not as weak as predicted.

"We have already priced in some recovery in earnings. Any further rise in stock prices, with interest rates where they are, would start to be speculative," said Edgar Peters, chief investment officer at PanAgora Asset Management Inc., which manages more than $12 billion. "You would have to see pretty strong earnings growth to justify much of a rally at this point."

Some money managers were busy stuffing their portfolios with some recent winners before year end, but other investors were wary of putting more cash into stocks until they see evidence profits have started to recover. S&P 500 companies could post their worst profit drop of the year — down about 22 percent — in the fourth quarter, according to research firm Thomson Financial/First Call.

"There is a lot of good news that has been built into stock groups," said Donna Van Vlack, director of trading at Brandywine Asset Management, which oversees $7 billion. "Now we have to wait till January and for earnings releases to see if the economy truly is or isn't turning.

The S&P 500 has climbed almost 20 percent since Sept. 21, the Nasdaq has surged almost 39 percent and the Dow has jumped more than 23 percent. The S&P 500 is still off more than 12 percent for the year, while the Nasdaq is down 20 percent and the Dow is off more than 6 percent for 2001.

Chipmakers gained after Merrill Lynch narrowed its quarterly loss estimate for Advanced Micro Devices, the No. 2 maker of computer microprocessors, due to better-than-expected demand for its Athlon chip. AMD gained 50 cents to $16.12, while its main rival, Intel Corp., rose 38 cents to $32.67.

Microchip maker Atmel climbed 13 percent, or 87 cents, to $7.49 after A.G. Edwards raised its rating on the stock to "strong buy" from "buy, " saying shares are trading at a "steep discount" to its competitors.

Some retailers gained on evidence some consumer spending held up over the critical holiday shopping season. Discount retailer Target jumped $1.19 to $39.65, while Gap rose 45 cents to $13.70 and fashion retailer The Limited Inc. nosed up 8 cents to $14.89.

Yahoo! Inc. gained 26 cents to $17.77 after saying a day ago that online sales for its vendors rose 86 percent this season, compared with a year earlier. Wall Street scrutinizes holiday sales because consumer spending underpins two-thirds of the U.S. economy. Inc. officially backed out of an acquisition agreement made in June with TMP Worldwide Inc. , operator of No. 1 job Web site, to accept a larger, unsolicited bid from Yahoo. TMP rose $1.85 to $43.73, shed 30 cents to $10.37.

Oil drillers fell as investors took profits after recent gains on expectations that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is poised to cut production. Lower production can mean higher oil prices and bigger profits for oil companies. Schlumberger Ltd. lost 44 cents to $55.51, and Noble Drilling Corp. dropped $1.16 to $34.35.

Stewart & Stevenson Services Inc. surged $2.78 to $19.94 after the energy equipment maker said it won a $374 million contract to build trucks and trailers for the U.S. Army, extending an existing contract for one year.

UnitedAuto Group Inc. climbed $3.05 to $26.20 after saying it expects to beat analysts' consensus profit estimate by about 15 percent, citing growth in same-store revenue and unit sales.

Winners beat losers by a ratio of 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange and by 7 to 5 on the Nasdaq. More than 881 million shares changed hands on the Big Board, and more than 1.2 billion on the Nasdaq — marking another lighter-than-average day as portfolio managers and traders take a few extra days off this holiday week.

The Russell 2000, the barometer of smaller company stocks, index rose 2.43, or 0.5 percent, to 492.62.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 2.6 percent. In Europe, Germany's DAX index and France's CAC-40 each gained nearly 2.0 percent, while Britain's FT-SE 100 rose 0.5 percent.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.