Stocks stage a big rally

By Hibah Yousuf, staff reporter

NEW YORK( -- U.S. stocks soared Thursday, with the major indexes gaining about 3%, after Chinese officials dismissed reports that they're reviewing their nation's investment in European bonds amid concerns about the continent's debt problems.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) added 285 points, or 2.9%, and finished at 10,259. American Express (AXP, Fortune 500), Intel (INTC, Fortune 500) and Alcoa (AA, Fortune 500) led the advance, rising more than 5%.

The S&P 500 (SPX) index rose 35 points, or 3.3%, and the Nasdaq (COMP) composite increased 82 points, or 3.7%.

Stocks erased gains in the last hour of trade Wednesday, with the Dow finishing below 10,000 for the first time in three months, as the focus shifted from strong economic reports to lingering concerns about global economic recovery and the weakening euro.

But investors' confidence got a boost Thursday after China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange refuted reports that the country was reconsidering its holdings in European bonds, calling the claims "groundless."

"China has always firmly supported the EU integration process. We support the European Union and the International Monetary Fund package of financial stability measures being taken," said agency chief Yi Gang in a statement.

China holds $2.45 trillion of foreign exchange reserves, with U.S. Treasury debt and Euro zone government bonds making up key investments.

"The news out of China denying rumors that they're going to reevaluate their European assets sparked a nice rally," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Avalon Partners.

Had the rumors been true, Cardillo said the euro would have crashed and sent markets into a free fall.

"That kind of move would have been detrimental for China, too," Cardillo said. "If Europe falls apart, so will the global economy."

Although worries about Europe's debt problems will continue, Cardillo said it's only a matter of time before fears subside.

The CBOE Volatility index, or the VIX (VIX), Wall Street's fear factor, sank more than 14%.

"With the facts we have now, we know Europe's troubles will impact economic activity on a global scale, but not by much and that's key," Cardillo said.

But markets could continue to remain volatile as investors remain jittery.

"Anytime we see moves of this kind of magnitude, even if it's positive, investors take a little more caution," said Russel Lundeberg, chief investment officer at Barrett Capital Management. "A nervous environment keeps volatility high."

Economy: The government revised its reading on first-quarter gross domestic product (GDP), the broadest measure of U.S. economic activity, to an annual growth rate of 3%. The figure was below expectations of 3.3%, according to a consensus of economists surveyed by The initial reading, released last month, was a 3.2% rate.

But the revision also showed that the rate of consumer spending has doubled since the fourth quarter of 2009, and remains consistent with the forecast for annual GDP to grow between 3% and 3.5% in 2010, Cardillo said.

The Labor Department said filings for first-time unemployment insurance fell last week to 460,000 from a revised 474,000 the previous week. Economists were expecting claims to fall even lower, to 455,000.

Companies: Johnson & Johnson (JNJ, Fortune 500) executives told lawmakers that the widespread recall of children's Tylenol medicines earlier this month was a precautionary measure taken against "remote" health risks. But the Food and Drug Administration is investigating reports of at least 775 serious side effects from the recalled drugs.

Johnson & Johnson's stock was the only Dow component to slip into the red Thursday, falling 0.2%. Since the May 1 recall, the company's shares have fell more than 7%.

BP (BP) executives also took the hot seat on Capitol Hill in ongoing testimony about the Gulf oil spill. The company's shares soared 7% after an Oppenheimer analyst raised the stock's rating, saying that the recent sell-off has gone too far. Shares of BP have dipped 30% since the April 20 explosion.

Apple's (AAPL, Fortune 500) market capitalization overtook Microsoft's (MSFT, Fortune 500) for the first time in 20 years at the close Wednesday, making it the second most valuable company in the nation after Exxon Mobil (XOM, Fortune 500). Both tech giants added about 4%.

World markets: Stocks around the world also advanced on the news from China. In Europe, the CAC 40 in France jumped 3.4%. Britain's FTSE 100 added 3.1% and the DAX in Germany also gained 3.1%

Asian shares also finished higher. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong and Japan's Nikkei added 1.2%. The Shanghai Composite gained 1.2%.

Dollar and commodities: The euro, which has seesawed since falling to a four-year low last week amid concerns about the region's economic stability, rebounded against the dollar, rising 1.5% against the U.S. currency.

The greenback was down 1.3% against the British pound, but it was up 1% versus the Japanese yen.

The weaker dollar gave momentum to oil prices. Oil for July delivery rose $3.04, or 4.3%, to $74.55 a barrel.

Gold for June delivery dipped $1.50 to settle at $1,211.60 per ounce.

Bonds: Treasury prices tumbled Thursday, pushing the benchmark 10-year note's yield up to 3.35%. Bond prices and yields move in opposite directions.

Trading volume: Market breadth was positive. On the New York Stock Exchange, winners beat losers nearly 13 to one on volume of just under 1.4 billion shares. On the Nasdaq, advancers topped decliners seven to one on volume of 2.4 billion shares.  To top of page

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