Mon, December 21, 2009
Business > Markets

Wall Street climbs on health bill; Nasdaq at 15-month high

2009-12-21 23:16:40 GMT2009-12-22 07:16:40 (Beijing Time)

U.S. stocks rose on Monday, with the Nasdaq hitting a 15-month high after a healthcare reform bill advanced in the Senate and brokerages upgraded two Dow components on improving profit prospects.

Healthcare stocks rose after a bill to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, which is perceived as less damaging to industry profits than expected, passed a crucial test in the U.S. Senate early Monday.

Retail stocks also gained as investors were optimistic about the rest of the holiday shopping season even after a heavy snowstorm hit the East Coast over the weekend, which may have deprived retailers of profits.

Legislation to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system passed a crucial test early Monday as backers cleared a procedural hurdle to approving the bill, which is President Barack Obama's top legislative priority.

Following the vote, the Morgan Stanley Health Payor index (.HMO) climbed 3 percent. Health insurers Aetna Inc (AET.N) added 4.7 percent to $34.04 and Cigna Corp (CI.N) rose 3.9 percent to $37.19.

"When it comes to healthcare, as it is with any industry, it's more about certainty," said Marc Pado, U.S. market strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald & Co. in San Francisco. "That way you know who the winners and losers are."

The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) shot up 85.25 points, or 0.83 percent, to end at 10,414.14. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (.SPX) gained 11.58 points, or 1.05 percent, to 1,114.05. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC) rose 25.97 points, or 1.17 percent, to end at 2,237.66.


Window dressing -- where portfolio managers sell lagging stocks and buy shares that have rallied recently -- also buoyed the broad market. On Monday, investors snapped up winners after a rally that has driven the S&P 500 up 23.3 percent for the year.

The S&P 500 closed within a hair of a new 14-month high, while the Nasdaq ended at a 15-month high. In contrast, the Dow ended considerably below its 2009 closing high at 10,501.05, which it reached on December 14.

"You've got a bull market surge that's going to be difficult for fund managers to keep pace with," Pado said.

"Window dressing is about the photo at the end of the year or the end of the quarter and that photo has to show you were playing in the right stocks."

Intel Corp (INTC.O) gained 2.3 percent to $20.09 on Nasdaq after Barclays upgraded the stock to "overweight" from "equal weight", citing solid "end-market" conditions.

Alcoa Inc (AA.N) gave the Dow its biggest boost after it announced a joint venture to build a $10.8 billion aluminum complex in Saudi Arabia.

Morgan Stanley raised its recommendation on Alcoa's stock to "buy," expecting the company to report increased profitability in its alumina and downstream divisions. Alcoa jumped 7.9 percent to $15.73 and helped lift the materials sector (.GSPM) 1.2 percent.

Sentiment also brightened after several acquisition deals, including an agreement by Sanofi-Aventis (SASY.PA) to buy consumer healthcare company Chattem Inc (CHTT.O) for about $1.9 billion, driving Chattem's stock up 33.1 percent to $93.14.


Shares of Take Two Interactive Software Inc (TTWO.O) lost 5.1 percent to $8.95 in extended trade after the company revised its outlook lower, citing the impact of the sale of its distribution business Jack of All Games.

Volume was light on the New York Stock Exchange, with only 1.01 billion shares changing hands, well below last year's estimated daily average of 1.49 billion. On the Nasdaq, about 1.84 billion shares traded, well below last year's daily average of 2.28 billion.

Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by about 11 to 4, while on the Nasdaq, two stocks rose for every one that fell.


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