Stocks soar and dollar surges

NEW YORK - Stocks jumped and the dollar surged while prices for gold and bonds tumbled yesterday, as the advance of US-led forces in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq gave investors the sense the end of the war could be near.

By (Reuters)

Published: Tue 8 Apr 2003, 1:09 PM

Last updated: Wed 1 Apr 2015, 7:37 PM

Stocks on Wall Street opened more than 2 per cent higher, and in Europe climbed 4 per cent and higher on anticipation of a swift end to the war. Investors dumped safe-haven investments like gold and bonds as they moved money into stocks.

"Positive progress in Iraq means stocks and the dollar get bought and bonds, oil and gold are being sold off," said Stephen Jen, chief currency economist at Morgan Stanley.

US forces pierced the heart of Baghdad yesterday, entering two of President Saddam Hussein's palaces, and British forces seized most of Basra, Iraq's second largest city.

The technology-laced Nasdaq Composite Index leaped 3.2 per cent, to 1,427, and the blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average jumped 2.4 per cent, to 8,479. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 rose 2.4 per cent to 900.

In Europe, the FTSE Eurotop 300 index was up 4.1 per cent. Since hitting a six-year low on March 12, the pan-European index has racked up a gain of about 22 per cent.

The narrower DJ Euro Stoxx 50 jumped 4.8 per cent, while other major European indices racked up gains as high as 5.6 per cent.

Strategists cautioned investors not to get overly exuberant, warning that even once the gloom of war has lifted, the market could be faced with a bleak economic picture. "This rally was entirely to be expected given the reduction in the risk premium associated with the war," said Andy Hartwill, global strategist at SG Securities.

"However we are not out of the woods yet and trading will be volatile and liable to setbacks yet, given the weak if not downright gloomy economic outlook for the euro zone."

Oil prices tumbled. News that Iraqi exiles and US officials agreed at a meeting on Saturday that Baghdad should stay in the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries after the war - but with no production cap - also undermined prices.

London Brent crude fell to $23.40 a barrel, its lowest since mid-November before recovering to $24, down 68 cents. US crude futures fell 82 cents to $27.80 a barrel.

Treasuries fell. On a day devoid of economic data with the potential to direct market prices, the focus on Monday will remain on the the war, traders said.

"It's going to be the war," said Gib Clark, head government bonds trader at Zions First National Bank. "Bonds are declining because of the end of the war. Stocks are rallying because of the end of the war."

In early dealings, the benchmark 10-year note was down 21/32 in price to yield 4.04 per cent, up from 3.96 per cent at Friday's close.

Yields on five-year notes rose to 2.96 per cent from 2.85 per cent at Friday's close, while the 30-year bond's yield rose to 5.02 per cent, from 4.97 per cent at Friday's close. The dollar surged more than 1 per cent against the euro and hit a three-month high against the Swiss franc.

"This is the dollar's second relief rally, but more earnest than the first one we saw a month ago," said Jen.

The euro fell against the dollar for the fifth consecutive session, hitting a two-week low of $1.0560 before climbing back to $1.0595, still a loss of 1.26 per cent from Friday's New York close.

The dollar hit a three-month high of 1.4080 Swiss francs before easing back to 1.4022 francs, still a gain of 1.18 per cent on the day.

Against the yen, the dollar climbed to 120.56 yen, a gain of 0.50 per cent on the day.

Gold tumbled further, shedding its safe-haven premium.

"Gold continues to weaken as the Iraq war proceeds toward its inevitable conclusion," John Reade, precious metals analyst at UBS Warburg, said in a daily report. "Quite how far gold can fall will be determined by the degree to which the dollar will strengthen."

Spot gold was trading at $319.30 an ounce, falling by more than $6 from New York's close on Friday at $325.35. The yellow metal recorded a fresh four-month low at $319.00.

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