Dow rises to record high

The Dow Jones industrial average reached another record close today as investors largely looked past economic and earnings reports that had stirred concerns about the health of the US economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average reached another record close today as investors largely looked past economic and earnings reports that had stirred concerns about the health of the US economy.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 also rose, but the Nasdaq fell.

Blue-chips managed gains despite a government report that inflation at wholesale level saw its biggest jump in more than 30 years in November as gas prices inched higher.

Many investors were also uneasy after the stock market in Thailand plunged following the announcement of controls on foreign investment by the Thai government.

The government backed off some of the restrictions after Thailand’s benchmark SET Index fell 14.8% and touched off concerns about a repeat of the economic crisis that rattled Asia in 1997.

“People are fundamentally optimistic and that’s containing the downside risk for the present,” said Stuart Schweitzer, global markets strategist at JPMorgan Asset & Wealth Management.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 30.05, or 0.24%, to 12,471.32. The finish eclipsed the last record close of 12,445.52, which came on Friday. The Dow also set a new trading high of 12,491.91.

Previously, it was 12,490.70.

The S&P 500 index rose 3.07, or 0.22%, to 1,425.55, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 6.02, or 0.25%, to 2,429.55.

Bonds were little moved, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note flat at 4.59% from late yesterday. The dollar was lower against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

“I think fundamentally the economy seems on track for a safe landing in 2007, but with some unsettling bumps along the way,” Schweitzer said.

Markets displayed little reaction to comments by Dallas Federal Reserve President Robert W Fisher, who said in a speech today that inflation remains troublesome for the US economy and that an increase in interest rates could be warranted.

The central bank has left short-term interest rates unchanged at its last four meetings, interrupting a string of 17 straight increases that began in 2004. Investors have been hoping for a rate cut as they try to determine whether or not the Fed can cool the economy without pushing it into recession.

Seemingly at odds with recent inflation reports, the Labor Department said today that the Producer Price Index, a measure of inflation at the wholesale level, jumped 2% in November.

While an increase had been expected following two months of declines, the rise far outstripped the 0.5% increase analysts had been expecting. The core PPI figure, which excludes often-volatile energy and food prices, rose 1.3%.

“The PPI is a reminder that there may be a two-way inflation risk in the near-term,” Schweitzer said.

“That creates the spectre of some uncomfortable moments for some investors, who might have looked for an early Fed ease.”

In other economic news, the Commerce Department said construction of homes and apartments increased by 6.7% in November but also that applications for permits to build homes declined for the 10th straight month.

Bryan Piskorowski, a market analyst at Wachovia Securities, said the PPI report and an upbeat reading last week on the level of inflation at consumer level raised questions about how corporate profits will hold up.

“It could have some negative implications for corporate profits in the sense that somebody has to get squeezed here,” he said. He noted Wall Street had already generally expected profits would be lower next year.

In corporate news, Morgan Stanley Inc. posted a stronger-than-expected fiscal fourth-quarter profit and announced plans to spin off its Discover credit-card business. The stock rose $1.33 to $81.70.

Circuit City Stores Inc. swung to a loss in its fiscal third quarter after sharp discounts on flat-panel televisions and computer equipment ate into profit margins. The company, which lowered its full-year sales forecast, fell $3.75, or 16.5%, to $19.01.

Applied Signal Technology Inc. fell $2.29, or 14.6%, to $13.45 after the digital-security company’s fiscal fourth-quarter earnings fell short of Wall Street’s expectation.

Oracle Corp. was down 81c, or 4.5%, at $17.10 after its fiscal second-quarter profit met expectations but investors questioned the software maker’s plan to grow through acquisitions.

Syntroleum Corp. jumped $1.29, or 46%, to $4.10 after the synthetic fuel processor signed an agreement with Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Co. to join in development of a gas-to-liquids facility in Papua New Guinea.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 0.08, or 0.01%, to 782.10.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about six to five on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.57 billion shares compared with 1.45 billion traded yesterday.

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