U.S. News

S&P 500 has Best Week in Four Years as Stocks Score Big Gains


Stocks closed slightly higher on Friday, ending one of the best weeks for the S&P 500 in four years.

"I like to see this pretty tight trading range; the fact that we've been able to hold on to these gains is healthy," Craig Columbus, chief market strategist at Advanced Equities Asset Management, told CNBC.com.

The S&P 500 rose 49 points or 3.5%, scoring its largest weekly point and percentage rise since March 2003, while the Nasdaq gained 3.5%, the best weekly performance since August. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the week up 3.1%, the biggest weekly gain since July. In point terms, the Dow was up 370.60 for the week, the biggest in four years.

Energy was Friday's best performing S&P 500 sector as crude oil prices continued to rally. The group was the top weekly gainer among the 10 sectors in the S&P 500, posting a gain of 6.7%.

Telecom pared gains on Friday but was the second best sector performer for the week, rising 2%. Tech and healthcare stocks lagged the overall market with respective gains of 2.4% and 2.6%.

"We hit some technical resistance levels yesterday and today," said Charles Rotblut, senior market analyst with Zacks.com, told CNBC.com on Friday. "We had a huge rally off the Fed news (on Wednesday) and it seems to have flatlined since then. There's a little bit of bullishness going on but we're not getting a lot of catalysts. People are content and waiting to see what happens."

Positive Housing Data

New data released Friday tempered investor worries about the housing market. Existing home sales rose unexpectedly in February by 3.9% to 6.69 million, the National Association of Realtors announced Friday morning. The data beat consensus estimates which called for a decline of 2% to an annual rate of 6.35 million.

"Certainly, the housing number was a nice surprise, but balancing that on the negative side are higher oil prices," said Jay Suskind, co-head of capital markets at Ryan Beck. "Geopolitical concerns are tempering the upside to the market, but if we could finish up around this level, that would be a terrific week."

"One of the things we need to keep in mind is with all of this focus on housing and the idea that some portions of the consumer sector are slowing down, there are other parts of this economy that are doing quite well," Abby Joseph Cohen, chief U.S. portfolio strategist at Goldman Sachs, told CNBC on Friday.

Cohen said she expects the S&P 500 to end the year at approximately 1550, or about 8% above current levels.

Oil prices closed up 1% on Friday on renewed geopolitical concerns. New York light crude futures ended above $62 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, closing the week with a gain of 4.5%.

DaimlerChrysler posted strong gains after an analyst said auto parts supplier Magna will team up with a private equity partner to offer to buy up to 25% of the Chrysler division for as much as $4.7 billion. Shares of the other members of the "Big Three" triumvirate of automakers, General Motors and Ford Motor, also traded higher.

Amgen fell after the biotech giant halted a study of colon cancer drug Vectibix in combination with Genentech'sAvastin and chemotherapy treatment. An interim analysis of trial data showed a decrease in patient survival rates, Amgen said. ImClone Systems ,which co-markets rival drug Erbitux with Bristol-Myers Squibb, saw shares jump more than 12% on the news.

Genentech shares fell after the biotech company issued disappointing quarterly earnings guidance. The company said Friday it expects first-quarter sales to be flat compared with the fourth quarter.

Vonage Holdings plunged 25% after a federal judge granted a permanent injunction against the Internet phone service provider in its patent dispute with telecom giant Verizon Communications . The injuction was delayed pending appeal.

Transportation stocks posted solid gains, fueled by a rise in shares of railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe .

Nike reported a nearly 8% rise in quarterly earnings but said margins for the current quarter and this year would be flat or slightly lower.

Treasury prices fell, sending yields higher.

Europe Sees Modest Gains, Asia Ends Mixed

London's FTSE-100, the Frankfurt DAX and the Paris CAC-40 all closed modestly higher.

Britain's benchmark stock index ended with a weekly gain of 3%, logging its fifth straight daily gain on Friday. Merger speculation sent shares of publishing group Pearson to a five-year high.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 Average finished higher as investors picked up laggards like Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and other bank shares while a softer yen boosted auto shares such as Honda Motor.

General Electric said it plans a $1.14 billion tender offer for Japanese leasing company Sanyo Electric Credit. GE is the parent company of CNBC.

In South Korea, the Kospi Index ended a touch lower as a surge in oil prices hit energy cost-sensitive firms such as KEPCO, while exporters retreated on worries the won currency would strengthen against the Japanese yen.