U.S. stocks rallied Thursday for the second straight day this week. On the one month anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York, the market has erased most of its loss since September 11.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 170 points, 1.8 percent, to 9,410. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 Index went up 16 points, one and a half percent to 1,097, while the tech-weighted Nasdaq Composite Index was almost 4.6 percent higher, climbing 75 points to 1,701.
Both the S&P and the Nasdaq are now above their September 11 levels. The Dow is still down about two percent.
General Electric, the world's most valuable company, helped propel the market rally. GE reported profits grew only three percent in the third quarter. But it was in line with Wall Street's expectations and better than what analysts expect out of corporate America in an economic downturn.
GE also reaffirmed its earnings target for the fourth quarter and said it expects to return to double-digit growth next year.
Wall Street cheered the market's climb back from three-year lows in the wake of the terrorist attacks. However, many analysts remain cautious. Investment strategist Mark Bronzo believes the market dipped too low immediately after September 11, and may now be getting back to where it should be. "I think the rally's been impressive. But we have to take it into context that maybe the selling was overdone after the tragic events of September 11th, and we got this sharp bounce back. Also, earnings expectations were so low that I think people are relieved that the numbers are coming out somewhat in line (with expectations)," Mr. Bronzo said.
The U.S. retail picture was mixed in September, with total sales the lowest in at least two decades. Discounters, such as leading retailer Wal-Mart, did well, while major department stores and luxury retailers had a dismal performance.
Retail analyst Fred Crawford says the results are not surprising, considering all the political and military uncertainty these days. He says retailers need secure consumers. "History would suggest when we're not sure what's going to happen, when we're in a war situation, we pull back on discretionary spending and we take a wait-and-see attitude," Mr. Crawford said. "How long, and the amplitude and altitude of this downslide is going to depend a lot on how soon we can restore consumer confidence."
All of this tracking of the consumer comes at a time when retailers look forward to their normally most profitable season end-of-the-year holiday shopping.