Dow: Just below record
Blue-chip gauge briefly tops closing record high but ends session off highs; broader market advances, too.
By Alexandra Twin, senior writer

NEW YORK ( -- Stocks gained Thursday, with the Dow Jones industrial average ending just below its all-time closing high, reached in January 2000.

The Dow (up 29.21 to 11,718.45, Charts) added almost 0.3 percent, clocking in its second-highest close ever. In the morning, the Dow briefly topped the record closing high of 11,722.98, hit on Jan. 14, 2000, before retreating. However, the blue-chip average remained below the record trading high of 11,750.28, hit on the same day in 2000.

What is the significance of a record high for the Dow Jones industrial average?
  It shows the economy is still strong
  It indicates a time to sell
  It indicates a time to buy stocks
  It has no significance
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"It's headline news, but I'm not sure it's representative of most people's portfolios, with many indexes up recently, but not at record highs," said Steven Goldman, market strategist at Weeden & Co.

While the Dow is near its record, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq are far from their closing highs - the S&P is down by 13 percent, and the Nasdaq is down by 55 percent.

The broader S&P 500 (up 2.56 to 1,339.15, Charts) index ended 0.2 percent higher Thursday at a fresh five-and-a-half-year high, as it has done for the past two sessions. The Nasdaq composite (up 6.63 to 2,270.02, Charts) added 0.3 percent.

Treasury prices slipped, lowering the corresponding yields. Oil slipped and gold prices rose.

After the close of trade Thursday, Ford Motor Credit - the financial arm of the troubled automaker - said it will cut nearly a quarter of its workforce in North American as part of an ongoing restructuring effort.

Earlier in the day, at the Paris auto show, Ford (up $0.16 to $8.16, Charts) said its European division is on track to post a profit in 2006. That sent shares higher in active New York Stock Exchange trading.

There are no market-moving earnings due Friday. Investors will instead be focused on the spate of relevant economic reports due in the morning.

Highlights include the August personal income and spending report and the report's inflation component - closely tracked by the Fed. The Chicago PMI, due out after the start of trade, will also be of interest, amid recent conflicting signs about the extent of a slowdown in manufacturing.

Reaching for the record

Stocks have rallied through the third quarter, with investors welcoming falling oil prices, signs that the economy is slowing, not heading for a recession, and relief that the Federal Reserve has halted its interest-rate-hiking campaign.

The advance has given the Dow ammunition to top its all-time highs, reached near the tail end of the last bull market.

But investors may have been feeling a little gun-shy about taking out the record, moving closer to it each day this week but not quite powering past it.

A rise in oil prices Wednesday and Thursday gave investors a reason to hold back. Surprisingly weak reads on durable goods Wednesday and gross domestic product growth Thursday added to the hesitation.

"Any time the market breaks through a high it's important, because it makes investors feel more confident," said John Forelli, portfolio manager at Independence Investments. "It's a psychological boost."

However, he said that the market seems to be in a good place now regardless of whether the Dow takes out the highs.

"The sense is that if the economy slows, inflation is moderate enough that the Federal Reserve will be able to cut rates, if need be," he added. That belief seems to be bolstering the markets in general right now.

The pace of growth in the second quarter was slower than initially thought, the government said Thursday. GDP grew at a 2.6 percent annual rate, down from an initial read of 2.9 percent and from 5.6 percent in the first quarter.

Yet, investors took the weaker than expected report in stride, as it further attested to the ability of the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates unchanged.

GM and other movers

General Motors (up $0.78 to $33.06, Charts), a Dow stock, added 2.4 percent on news that billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian's Tracinda Corp. is seeking to boost its holdings of the automaker's stock by about 12 million shares. GM is reportedly still in talks with Renault and Nissan about forging an alliance.

At the Paris auto show, rival DaimlerChrysler (down $0.20 to $50.25, Charts) said it was lowering its vehicle sales outlook for the rest of 2006, The Wall Street Journal reported. Shares slipped modestly.

Three former Hewlett-Packard (up $0.58 to $35.97, Charts) executives invoked their right not to testify at a congressional hearing on the company's boardroom leak probe. Ex-Chairwoman Patricia Dunn testified that she didn't know of any potential illegal tactics used by the company until late June.

Shares of HP, a Dow stock, gained 1.6 percent. Other Dow 30 gainers included Caterpillar (up $0.91 to $66.59, Charts) and Intel (up $0.38 to $20.77, Charts).

Time Warner (down $0.39 to $18.20, Charts) dipped slightly more than 2 percent in active New York Stock Exchange trading after the parent of was downgraded by JPMorgan, according to

Lenovo Group and IBM are recalling 526,000 laptop batteries manufactured by Sony and used in IBM ThinkPads because they pose a fire risk, the companies said Thursday afternoon. Lenovo bought IBM's PC business last year.

Dell (up $0.52 to $22.97, Charts) and Apple Computer (up $0.60 to $77.01, Charts) have already issued large recalls because of the same problem with the Sony-manufactured batteries. IBM (down $0.10 to $81.99, Charts) shares were little changed in response to the news, while Sony (down $0.35 to $41.16, Charts)'s American depositary receipts lost close to 1 percent.

Late Wednesday, Amgen said the Food and Drug Administration had approved Vectibix, its drug to treat colon cancer. The drug is seen as a competitor to ImClone's Erbitux. Shares of both Amgen (down $0.59 to $71.55, Charts) and ImClone (down $0.24 to $28.51, Charts) dipped Thursday.

In other news, Standard & Poor's said Smith International (up $1.07 to $38.44, Charts) will join the S&P 500 after the close of trade Friday. The oil service provider will replace Golden West Financial (up $0.90 to $77.07, Charts), which is being bought by Wachovia (up $0.73 to $55.64, Charts).

Market breadth was positive. On the New York Stock Exchange, winners topped losers by 8 to 7 on volume of nearly 1.49 billion shares. On the Nasdaq, advancers barely topped decliners on volume of 1.85 billion shares.

Treasury prices dipped, raising the yield on the benchmark 10-year note to around 4.61 percent from 4.59 percent late Wednesday. Bond prices and yields move in opposite directions.

In currency trading, the dollar inched higher versus the yen and euro.

U.S. light crude oil for November delivery ended down 20 cents at $62.76 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after rising through most of the session.

COMEX gold for December delivery rose $7.60 to $610.90 an ounce.

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