Stocks Jump Amid Massive Air Assault on Iraq

Stocks soared Friday, driving the blue-chip Dow average to its best week since October 1982, as investors found hope for a swift end to the Iraq war amid news that the United States had unleashed a massive aerial assault dubbed by the Pentagon as "shock and awe".

The Dow Jones industrials jumped 235.02 points, or 2.84 percent, to 8,521.62, while the Standard and Poor's 500 index rose 20.05 points, or 2.29 percent, to 895.89. The tech-laced Nasdaq Composite Index added 18.40 points, or 1.31 percent, at 1,421.17.

The Dow's 8.36 percent rise for the week was the best since an 8.72 percent gain for the week ending Oct. 8, 1982. The S&P is up 7.39 percent on the week. The Nasdaq added 6.03 percent.

The rally boosted the S&P 500 into positive territory by 1.8 percent and the Dow by 2.2 percent on the year, while the Nasdaq is up 6.4 percent for 2003.

The last eight straight days of gains for the Dow occurred in December 1998, while such a streak last happened for the S&P in June 1997.

Stocks rose at the open, then leaped in late morning after a BBC report quoted a British official as saying Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was likely killed in the first air strike on Baghdad. Britain's defense chief said he could not confirm the report.

Gains accelerated as the United States and Britain unleashed a devastating air assault on Baghdad and other cities while their ground forces thrust deep into Iraqi territory.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the scale of the assault was intended to show Iraqis that Saddam was finished and his rule was "history."

"This .. suggests there will be a more telescoped time frame for military conflict," said David Littmann, chief economist at Comerican Bank in Detroit. "It suggests certainty will take over in the economy and consumer confidence will return."

Investors were glued to television sets flashing dramatic nighttime footage of the pounding, fireballs and all, which Washington says is aimed at ousting the Iraqi regime. Plumes of smoke rose from Baghdad as bombs and missiles slammed into one of Saddam's palaces and other targets.

Some market watchers warned against excessive optimism that the fighting will be over quickly.

"While things continue to go well over there, we're still a bit concerned, given we had such a long run-up," said Kevin Connellan, head of equity trading at Northern Trust. "Once the troops get closer to the cities over the weekend, the conflict could get tougher."

Still, traders hoped stocks, after three down years, could finally be bouncing back. "We were in purgatory for a long time and that was causing the market to just languish," said W.J. Dowd Inc. President Gordon Charlop, who works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Now, he added, "We are starting to get our swagger back."

Other world markets also responded sharply to the war news. The dollar jumped to two-month highs against major currencies, the 10-year Treasury note's yield surged to a two-month high at 4.10 percent, gold fell to a 3-1/2-month low and oil slumped to its lowest level in nearly four months, below $27 a barrel.

NYMEX prompt crude futures have now given up more than $13 or 33 percent from the 12-year high of $39.99 on Feb. 27. Higher oil prices are an added cost to businesses, so the recent decline has cheered Wall Street.

DuPont Co. (DD) rose $2.04, or 5 percent, to $41.64. The No. 2 chemical maker helped drive the Dow higher after it stood by its quarterly profit forecast, citing strong results in its agriculture and pharmaceutical units.

Electronic Data Services Corp. (EDS) added $1.87, or nearly 12 percent, to $17.63. The computer services company's chief executive, Richard Brown, has stepped down and will be replaced by Michael Jordan, former CEO of CBS Corp.

Sour corporate news failed to dampen investors' spirits as hopes mounted that corporate growth would pick up steam after the war against Iraq has ended.

Intuit Inc.(INTU), the maker of QuickBooks and TurboTax software, sank $12.17, or nearly 24 percent, to $38.72. The company cut 2003 revenue and earnings growth targets, blaming the economic slowdown for soft sales across its product line.

EMC Corp. (EMC), a data storage system maker, lost 40 cents, or 5.12 percent, to $7.41. DB Securities cut EMC to "hold" from "buy," partly on valuation and uncertain business trends.

ATI Technologies Inc. (ATYT) reported second-quarter sales and earnings that blew past expectations on strong demand for its new, high-speed graphics chips. Its shares surged 84 cents to $5.38, or 18.5 percent.

Palm Inc. (PALM) lost 44 cents, or 4 percent, to $10.45. The No. 1 maker of handheld computers posted a fiscal third-quarter loss in line with expectations, and said it expects more operating losses in its fourth fiscal quarter and revenues that will fall short of current expectations.

The war overshadowed the day's economic data. The Consumer Price Index, a measure of retail level inflation, jumped 0.6 percent in February -- its biggest gain in more than two years -- as energy prices surged on the march to war and food costs jumped. But the core CPI rose just 0.1 percent, showing inflation was well-contained when volatile food and energy costs were stripped out.

About two stocks rose for each one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. More than 1.8 billion shares changed hands on each exchange in heavy trading.

The Russell 2000 index, a barometer of smaller company stocks, rose 5.74, or 1.6 percent, to 376.23.

In Europe, France's CAC-40 rose 3.4 percent, Britain's FTSE 100 gained 2.5 percent and Germany's DAX index climbed 4.2 percent. Japan's financial markets were closed Friday for Vernal Equinox Day, a national holiday.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.