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News On Geithner Propels Stocks

The Dow surges 494 points on word of the possible Treasury pick.

November 22, 2008|Walter Hamilton | Hamilton is a Times staff writer.

NEW YORK — The misery gripping the stock market lifted at least briefly Friday as share prices surged on word that President-elect Barack Obama had settled on a nominee for Treasury secretary.

After hovering near the break-even point for much of the trading session, stocks soared in the last hour on reports that Timothy F. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, would become Obama's top economic official.

Geithner has worked closely with major New York banks in his current post and is well liked and highly regarded on Wall Street, so his apparent selection was seen as a sign that Obama would place a high priority on helping the bloodied financial sector come out of its crisis.

"His selection is not by accident," said Peter Kenny, managing director at Knight Capital Group Inc. in Jersey City, N.J. "His geographic point of reference is of central significance."

Investors also were pleased that Obama was expected to announce the rest of his economic team early next week, suggesting his administration would be ready to address the financial meltdown immediately after his inauguration.

Although a nomination of Geithner won't by itself calm the tides that have battered the economy and the stock market, the perception of action Friday boosted badly depleted confidence, which is crucial to halting the stock slide, traders said.

The Dow vaulted 494.13 points, or 6.5%, to 8,046.42, erasing its 445-point plunge Thursday. But the blue-chip gauge still was down 5.3% for the week.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index, which fell to an 11-year low Thursday, rocketed 47.59 points, or 6.3%, to 800.03. The Nasdaq composite index advanced 68.23 points, or 5.2%, to 1,384.35.

The rally did not include beleaguered banking giant Citigroup, whose shares plunged for a third straight day on speculation that the company might have to dismantle itself or put itself up for sale.

"The market's saying, 'Break this thing up,' " said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago. "Some of the parts are clearly worth more than the whole, and unfortunately [Chief Executive Vikram] Pandit doesn't have the luxury of time" to turn the firm around.

Even though Citigroup recently received a $25-billion capital infusion from the Treasury Department, some investors expect that the government will be forced to step in with some sort of rescue package.

Citigroup shares dropped 20% on Friday and are down 60% for the week.

Despite Citigroup's fall, financial stocks in the S&P 500 rebounded 3.4% after tumbling 30% over the previous five sessions. Still, the sector logged the smallest rise of the S&P's 10 main industry groups.

The sector that gained the most, energy stocks, jumped 12% as oil futures climbed 51 cents to $49.93 a barrel, their first gain in six days.

Chesapeake Energy shot up 21%. Massey Energy Co. rose 21%.

The rush to safety in the market for government debt continued, with yields on three-month Treasury bills falling to 0.01% from 0.02% on Thursday, indicating investors were willing to accept practically no interest to ensure they would lose no money. The 10-year Treasury note's yield, however, rose to 3.17% from 3.14%.

Some analysts warned against making too much of Friday's stock rally, pointing out that the market had experienced any number of one-day bounces during the 13-month-long slide from its record highs.

The Geithner pick was "just the latest excuse" to buy after a major fall, said John Bollinger, head of Bollinger Capital Management in Manhattan Beach.

"Any piece of news that could be interpreted in a positive way could have done it," Bollinger said. "I haven't seen any conviction yet. This is a one-hour wonder."

Some of the buying appeared to be coming from hedge funds that had bet stock prices would keep falling and had to scramble to cover their bets when the market went against them, traders said.

"The real buyers are still sitting on the sidelines," said Joe Saluzzi, co-head of equity trading at Themis Trading in Chatham, N.J.

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walter.hamilton@latimes.com

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