Street moves higher after Fed credit plan

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NEW YORK -- Wall Street rebounded sharply Tuesday after the Federal Reserve and other central banks said they will pump $200 billion into the financial markets to help ease the strain from the credit crisis. The Dow Jones industrials surged about 160 points.

The program is part of a worldwide effort to help struggling banks and mortgage providers. The Fed -- acting in concert with the European Central Bank, the Bank of Canada and the Swiss National Bank -- agreed to loan investment banks money in exchange for debt that includes slumping mortgage-backed securities.

The Fed's latest move was seen as a direct boost to struggling banks by avoiding having to dramatically slash interest rates when the central bank's policymaking Open Market Committee meets next week. Economists continued to be concerned about the unrelenting rise in oil prices and the dollar's weakness, which contribute to inflation -- and cutting rates only add to these pressures.

The market's reaction contrasts with its more skeptical view during the past few weeks about the central bank's ability to keep the economy out of a recession. However, this latest step was seen as a direct lifeline to investment banks -- which previously couldn't borrow in past Fed liquidity plans.

"The big problem has been the financials, and this helps supply money directly to the banks and may take some of the need for aggressive rate cutting off the table," said Peter Dunay, chief investment strategist at Meridian Equity Partners. "The Fed is basically going to take the bad loans off the banks' books, and the market seems to be loving that idea."

In early afternoon trading, the Dow rose 166.32, or 1.42%, to 11,906.47. The index -- which lost more than 500 points in the last three sessions -- is still down more than 2,100 points from its October 2007 record high.

Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 14.96, or 1.17%, to 1,288.33, while the Nasdaq composite index added 28.21, or 1.30%, to 2,197.55.

Government bond prices fell as stocks rallied. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, spiked to 3.57% from 3.46% late Monday.

Oil prices rose as high as $109.72 in premarket trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange before falling back to $108.50. Speculation that rising prices for oil and other commodities will offset the falling dollar has driven oil's rally from $87 a barrel in January.

Gold prices were higher, and the dollar was mixed against other major currencies.

The Fed's announcement overshadowed a report from the Commerce Department that showed the United States' trade deficit grew larger in January. The latest snapshot of the economy showed that the trade gap increased to $58.2 billion -- the highest since November.

Financial stocks were the biggest movers after the announcement, as many major investment banks dipped to yearly lows in recent days amid concerns about liquidity. The central bank's plan basically allows Wall Street's biggest institutions to put up troubled assets as collateral for loans, use the new capital to make money in the market, and then pay back the loan up to 28 days later.

Though eventually the investment banks would be forced to take the troubled mortgage-backed debt back on their books, the plan still takes short-term pressure off them. Many of these banks will release first-quarter earnings reports next week.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. rose $5.47, or 3.5%, to $161.05, and Morgan Stanley added $2.36, or 6.2%, to $40.66. However, Bear Stearns Cos. fell $4.16, or 6%, to 58.15 after an analyst said the No. 5 U.S. investment bank might need to sell itself, or layoff more staff, to stay afloat.

A spokesman for the company didn't immediately return telephone calls.

In other corporate news, WellPoint Inc. fell after Goldman Sachs trimmed its ratings in the managed care sector to neutral from attractive. The investment bank singled out WellPoint's performance amid pricing pressures. The stock plunged $18.37, or 27.6%, to $47.55.

Texas Instruments Inc., which makes chips used in about half the world's cell phones, lowered its profit projections late Monday due to a key customer's decision to cut orders. The company did not identify the customer other than to say it is a maker of wireless phones, and shares fell $1.44, or 4.8%, to $28.21.

Google Inc. shares spiked after European Union regulators cleared the Internet company's $3.1 billion bid for online ad tracker DoubleClick. Shares of Google rose $14.17, or 3.4%, to $427.79.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 11.10, or 1.72%, to 655.07.

Advancing issues surpassed decliners by a 3 to 1 basis on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 818.2 million shares.

Stocks overseas rebounded. Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average rose 1.01%, while Hong Kong's market closed up 1.28% higher. In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE-100 rose 1.7%, Germany was up 2.01%, and France added 1.61%.
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