Car industry lifeline boosts Wall Street

Wall Street staged a big advance in the penultimate session of 2008 today after Washington’s latest lifeline to the car industry bolstered hopes that the US government will do whatever is necessary to cut short the recession.

Car industry lifeline boosts Wall Street

Wall Street staged a big advance in the penultimate session of 2008 today after Washington’s latest lifeline to the car industry bolstered hopes that the US government will do whatever is necessary to cut short the recession.

Investors found solace in news that General Motors’ troubled financing arm received 5 billion of financing.

The Treasury Department said last night it would provide the money to GMAC Financial Services from the 700 billion (€496 billion) bank rescue program.

The injection is on top of the 17.4 billion (€12.3 billion) in loans the Bush Administration agreed to provide to the car industry on December 19.

GMAC said today it would immediately resume lending to certain customers it had previously said were too great a risk for car loans because of tight credit markets.

“This is trying to slow down the economic train wreck,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank. “Investors are taking a step back, and realising that this will enable car buyers to finance their cars and add liquidity to the market.”

Mr Ablin also said the move will have an effect on the entire economy, especially amid a backdrop of sluggish consumer spending, which drives more than two-thirds of the US economy.

Wall Street got another disappointing reading about the mood of Americans after the Conference Board reported its Consumer Confidence index dropped to a record low.

The trade group reported the index’s reading fell to a 38 in December from a revised 44.7 in November, well below the expectation of 45 economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

Investors were well prepared for a downbeat report after consumers reluctant to spend left retailers with their worst holiday season in years.

The International Council of Shopping Centres said today that weekly same-store sales, those from stores open a year or more, dropped 1.5% last week at the 40 retailers it polls.

Stocks pulled back somewhat after the consumer confidence report was released, but quickly bounded higher. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 184.46, or 2.17%, to 8,668.39.

Broader indexes also moved higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 21.22, or 2.44%, to 890.64; while the Nasdaq composite index added 40.38, or 2.67%, to 1,550.70.

With many traders away for the holidays, volume was low, which can exaggerate price moves. Advancing issues led decliners by a 4 to 1 basis on the New York Stock Exchange, where 706.5 million shares changed hands.

Most investors are looking past 2008 for clues about how stocks will fare in the coming year. The major stock market indicators are down 34% to 41% for the year.

Subodh Kumar, global investment strategist at Subodh Kumar & Associates in Toronto, said the market’s moves in the final days of the year are more noteworthy than some investors realise; stocks have been fairly steady despite low volume that could easily lead to sharp declines. But he predicts trading will remain volatile into mid-2009.

“It’s still relatively encouraging that the markets have been able to hold up,” he said.

Investors might have been able to overlook the disappointing consumer data after a surprise uptick in the Chicago Purchasing Managers’ index, which measures business conditions across Illinois, Michigan and Indiana. It advanced in December for the first time since August.

Wall Street had expected a decline. The index, which rose 34.1 from 33.8 in November, is considered a precursor to the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing survey on Friday.

Bond prices were higher. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell to 2.08% from 2.10% yesterday. The yield on the three-month T-bill, in great demand because it is considered one of the safest investments, rose to 0.06% from 0.03% last night.

In corporate news, shares of GM rose 20 cents, or 5.6%, to 3.80 after GMAC was given government financing. GM owns 4 % of GMAC, while private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management holds the remainder.

The Federal Reserve last week approved GMAC’s application to become a bank holding company, a move that cleared the way for the company to receive money from the financial rescue fund. In addition to the cash infusion for GMAC, the government also agreed to lend 1 billion to GM so it can contribute to the financing arm’s reorganisation as a bank holding company.

Meanwhile, General Motors said it is offering financing as low as zero % over the next week for several 2008 and 2009 models in a big year-end sales push.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 16.62, or 3.57%, to 482.77.

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