NEW YORK -- Buyers reasserted themselves on Wall Street Thursday, motivated by upbeat retail news that included better-than-expected October sales. The Dow Jones industrials rose nearly 100 points, while the Nasdaq composite index jumped more than 30.
Investors were also heartened by earnings from Target and other retailers that beat forecasts. Analysts said the market also drew some strength from Iraq's agreement Wednesday to a U.N. resolution calling for weapons inspections, which could avert a war.
In late afternoon trading, the Dow was up 109.93, or 1.3 percent, at 8,508.42, adding to Wednesday's 12-point gain.
The broader market was also higher. The Nasdaq rose 37.33, or 2.7 percent, to 1,398.67, poised for its best one-day gain in a month, since rising 61.91 on Oct. 15.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed 17.90, or 2 percent, to 900.43.
Investors were buying stocks with a zeal that has been lacking in recent sessions, including Wednesday when the market vacillated between gains and losses, and between fears of a war with Iraq and relief that it might be avoided.
"The market has been boosted by the good retail sales numbers and the fact that the imminence of U.S. military action against Iraq has been delayed. Those two events have been a magnet for money," said Alan Ackerman, executive vice president at Fahnstock & Co.
And, Wall Street was gunning for its best session since last week's Republican victory in the midterm elections. Many investors believe the party will be a boon to business.
Thursday's gains followed news that sales at the nation's retailers were flat in October, better than the 0.2 percent decline analysts had expected. It was also an improvement over a 1.3 percent drop in sales for September.
Retailing stocks were strong. Target rose $2.93 to $32.96 on third-quarter earnings that were 2 cents a share higher than anticipated. American Eagle Outfitters, which beat earnings expectations by 3 cents a share, advanced $1 to $18.
Dell Computer rose 92 cents to $30.97 ahead of its earnings due out later.
The positive retail news was particularly encouraging to investors, who know that consumer spending represents economic vitality. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the nation's economy.
The retail reports were also a boost to investors who in recent sessions have been wary of buying stocks. With worries about the possibility of war with Iraq or of more terrorism here, investors have had a tough time justifying making bigger commitments to the market.
"People are looking for reasons to buy stocks, rather than sell them. When investor psychology changes, that is what happens. Two months ago nobody wanted to buy," said Michael Murphy, head trader for Wachovia Securities.
Analysts were most encouraged by the tech sector's awesome gains, which came despite disappointing news from Applied Materials. The chip equipment maker issued a profit warning for its first quarter late Wednesday. Still, Applied Materials managed to rise 50 cents to $15.20 in Thursday's trading.
Other tech gainers included Microsoft, up $1.55 at $56.91, and Oracle, which rose 49 cents to $10.11.
In other economic news, fewer Americans filed new claims for unemployment benefits for the second straight week, according to the Labor Department. New claims last week dropped by 8,000 to 388,000, the lowest level since Aug. 3.
There were few losers Thursday on Wall Street; among them was Honeywell, dropping $2.27 to $22.98 on concerns about its pension funding. Honeywell said in a government filing that it expects 2003 pension expenses to run $235 million to $335 million, according to Dow Jones Newswires.
Honeywell estimated it will take an after-tax charge of up to $1.7 billion because the fair value of the pension plan's assets is less than the obligation.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners nearly 3 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange. Trading volume came to 1.15 billion shares, compared with 1.10 billion shares traded at the same point Wednesday.
The Russell 2000 index, which tracks smaller company stocks, rose 6.74, or 1.8 percent, to 382.85.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average finished Thursday down 1.6 percent. In Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.6 percent, France's CAC-40 rose 3.8 percent, and Germany's DAX index climbed 4 percent.
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