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Wall Street ends week up, awaits Fed meeting

Wall Street ends week up

NEW YORK (AFP) – Wall Street is flirting with its highest levels since May, boosted by new strong data easing concerns over the recovery as traders await next week’s Federal Reserve meeting.

The past week saw new positive data on the health of the global economic recovery with strong manufacturing figures from China and a modest rise in US retail sales for the second straight month.

For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 1.39 percent to 10,607.85 in the third consecutive week of gains as it nears its highest levels since May. The broader S&P 500 index gained 1.45 percent to 1,125.59.

The technology-rich Nasdaq composite index ramped up 3.26 percent to 2,315.61 in a week where computer giant Hewlett-Packard announced its latest acquisition and technology bellwethers Oracle and Research in Motion reported strong quarterly results.

Confidence was bolstered early in the week when banking regulators meeting in Basel, Switzerland settled on reforms that will require banks to raise capital reserves substantially as a buffer against future financial breakdowns.

Jobless claims also showed jobless claims fell faster than expected last week, extending a four-week decline.

But disappointing figures showing a slowdown in the US manufacturing sector poured some cold water on the enthusiasm.

“Economic news, especially retail sales and industrial numbers, told us that the probability of a double dip is less than many had thought,” said independent analyst Hugh Johnson, looking back at the week.

The upcoming week will bring new data on the faltering housing market, which could show a continued loss of momentum since August’s disappointing data.

But all eyes are on Tuesday’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, which is set to keep current historically-low interest rates unchanged from levels set in December 2008 in a effort to spark growth.

Investors will be closely following the tone of the FOMC’s statement on the current conditions of the US market as speculation grows on whether the Fed might redouble crisis-era spending policies to bolster the economy.

“Next week is all about the Fed,” said analyst Gina Martin of Wells Fargo Securities.

“It almost feels like the market is lying waiting for the Fed meeting next week because there are so many rumors whether or not we are going to get quantitative easing or some signals on inflation target,” she told AFP.

In its economic survey ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, the Federal Reserve noted continued growth in national economic activity between mid-July and the end of August, “but with widespread signs of a deceleration.”

The Fed has already pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy since a home mortgage meltdown triggered the worst financial crisis in decades and plunged the economy into recession in December 2007.

Most analysts however do not expect the Fed to decide to inject more cash in what some calls quantitative easing, a further effort to spur growth with interest rates already near zero.

“If we don’t get a signal that the Fed is continuing to do everything they can… we can disappointed,” Martin said.

“I don’t think the market is really expecting quantitative easing next week, but they are expecting the Fed to acknowledge that conditions are weaker, and to signal quantitative easing in the next couple of months if the data remain weak.”

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