Dow, S&P end at 19-month highs

By Alexandra Twin, senior writer

NEW YORK ( -- Stocks rallied Friday, with the Dow, Nasdaq and S&P 500 all ending at fresh 2010 highs, after a surprisingly strong new-home sales report, a surge in commodities and improved earnings from American Express.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) rose 70 points, or 0.6%, ending at 11,204.28, the highest close since Sept. 19, 2008.

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The S&P 500 index (SPX) rose 8 points, or 0.7%, ending at 1217.28, also the highest point since Sept. 19, 2008.

The Nasdaq composite (COMP) gained 11 points, or 0.4%, closing at 2530.15, the highest point since June 5, 2008.

"Today it was about the new-home sales and the earnings, but we've also been seeing some real resilience in the market, with the Dow up for the longest winning streak in six years," said Paul Brigandi, vice president of trading at Direxion Funds.

The Dow has now risen for eight weeks straight, its longest positive streak since January 2004. The Nasdaq has also risen for eight consecutive weeks. The S&P 500 ended lower last week and has risen for seven of the last eight weeks.

"Everyone's anticipating a pullback, but we're just not seeing it, even with the overhang of Greece and other sovereign debt issues and financial regulatory reform," he said.

Stocks seesawed through the morning as investors considered a variety of economic, corporate and geopolitical news. But the tone turned positive by the close, with the Dow and S&P 500 ending at fresh 18-month highs and the Nasdaq closing at a new 22-month high.

A surprisingly weak durable-goods orders report raised worries about the economy that were later tempered by a strong new home sales report. The dollar fluctuated, putting some pressure on corresponding commodity prices and stocks. Investors also sorted through the ramifications of Greece's decision to access emergency funds.

Better-than-expected earnings from American Express and others were also in the mix. A variety of homebuilder stocks jumped.

Greece: Worries about the nation defaulting on its debt eased Friday after Greece's prime minister requested up to $53 billion in aid from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Greece's bond yields had hit record highs Friday before the debt-plagued nation asked to access the loans made available to it earlier this month. The European Union (EU) pledged to provide as much as $40 billion at a 5% interest rate, well below market rate. The IMF said it would lend Greece $13 billion.

Worries that Greece wouldn't make its May 19 deadline for refinancing more than $11 billion were exacerbated Thursday after ratings agency Moody's cut its bond rating on the country. An EU report showed that Greece's budget deficit last year was worse than the nation has admitted, adding to the worries.

Economy: Orders for durable goods fell 1.3% in March, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Orders rose 1.1% in February and were expected to rise 0.1% in March, according to a consensus of economists surveyed by

The weak report raised some worries about the pace of the recovery, but the fears were tempered by a strong housing market report.

In the housing report, new home sales rose to a 411,000-unit annual rate in March from a 324,000-unit annual rate in February, a 27% increase that was the fastest rate of gain in 47 years. Economists had expected sales of 330,000.

Quarterly results: Roughly 83% of S&P 500 company earnings have topped estimates, with growth currently forecast to have risen 50% from a year earlier, according to the latest from Thomson Reuters. Revenue growth is expected to have risen 11% from a year ago.

American Express (AXP, Fortune 500) reported higher quarterly earnings late Thursday that topped estimates. The Dow component also said its customers spent more in the first quarter than a year earlier and that it set aside less money for loan losses. Shares gained 2% Friday.

Fellow credit card distributor Capitol One Financial (COF, Fortune 500) also posted earnings that improved from a year earlier and topped estimates, and also set aside less for loan losses than in previous quarters. However, the company said customer loan demand is still weak. Shares gained 2.5%.

Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) posted a higher quarterly profit that surpassed forecasts late Thursday. The results were due to a continued strong response to it Windows 7 operating system, introduced six months ago, as well as its Bing search engine. Shares fell 2% Friday.

Also after the close Thursday, (AMZN, Fortune 500) reported earnings that jumped 68% from a year ago, surpassing forecasts, on higher sales that also beat expectations. Amazon shares fell 4.5%.

Merck (MRK, Fortune 500) rallied 5% and was one of the Dow's biggest gainers after it forecast charges related to healthcare reform that are lower than its rivals. Merck expects to take around $170 million in charges this year and between $300 million and $350 million in charges next year.

Market breadth was positive. On the New York Stock Exchange, winners beat losers two to one on volume of 880 million shares. On the Nasdaq, advancers topped decliners five to four on volume of 2 billion shares.

The dollar and commodities: The dollar fell versus the euro, giving up morning gains. The greenback advanced versus the yen.

U.S. light crude oil for June delivery rose $1.42 to $85.12 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

COMEX gold for June delivery rose $10.80 to settle at $1,153.70 per ounce.

World markets: In overseas trading, European markets rallied, with London's FTSE up 1%, France's CAC 40 up 0.7% and Germany's DAX up 1.5%. Asian markets fell, with Hong Kong's Hang Seng index down 1% and Japan's Nikkei down 0.3%.

Bonds: Treasury prices fell, raising the yield on the 10-year note to 3.82% from 3.77% late Thursday. Treasury prices and yields move in opposite directions. To top of page

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