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Thursday February 21, 2008 - 00:47:51 GMT
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GLOBAL MARKETS NEWS - US stocks rise after Fed economic forecast

By Herbert Lash

NEW YORK, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Wall Street stocks rose on Wednesday after a U.S. Federal Reserve forecast of lower economic growth prompted hopes for lower interest rates andafter strong profits at Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N: Quote, Profile, Research) overcame worries about a rise in U.S. consumer prices.

The inflation report further unsettled markets upset already this week by a leap in U.S. crude oil futures to a record high above $100 on Tuesday. The energy market climbed again on Wednesday and gold, a traditional inflation hedge, rose sharply to a record high in late trade.

The release of minutes from a Fed policy-setting meeting in January during the afternoon caused stocks, bonds and the dollar to see-saw in choppy trading as investors weighed the Fed's forecast of a weakening economy but a lowering of rates.

All three markets reversed course on expectations the Fed will keep easing despite the signs of inflation seen in the consumer prices.

"Basically I think they are clearing the way for more easing," said Carl Lantz, U.S. interest rate strategist at Credit Suisse in New York. "They acknowledged that they have done a lot but they still saw downside risks to growth."

At the unofficial early close, the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was up 93.29 points, or 0.76 percent, at 12,430.51. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX was up 11.19 points, or 0.83 percent, at 1,350.91. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC was up 20.90 points, or 0.91 percent, at 2,327.10.

The dollar erased gains against the euro to trade flat and U.S. Treasury debt prices ended mixed after the stock market rally dimmed the safe-haven appeal of bonds.

The sharp market reversals surprised investors.

U.S. consumer prices increased on an annual basis to an unexpectedly strong 4.3 percent in January from an already elevated rate of 4.1 percent the month before, the U.S. Labor Department said. Rising food costs helped push consumer prices up for a second straight monthly gain of 0.4 percent.

Investors took heart in results released after markets closed on Tuesday by Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N: Quote, Profile, Research), which issued a forecast above of Wall Street targets. It gained nearly 8 percent in value to close at $47.44.

HP's better-than-expected earnings showed it's able to navigate a difficult economy due partly to strong sales from abroad, which account for more than two-thirds of its revenue.

Earlier in Europe stocks fell on U.S. inflation concerns and fresh worries about bank write-downs at Britain's Alliance & Leicester (ALLL.L: Quote, Profile, Research) and BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA: Quote, Profile, Research), France's largest listed bank, for exposure to the U.S. housing crisis.

BNP Paribas' fourth-quarter net profit fell 42 percent to 1.006 billion euros ($1.5 billion), in line with previous guidance, and said it took write-downs of 898 million euros during the quarter.

A&L, Britain's seventh-biggest listed bank, reported a gloomy outlook and surprised investors with a warning about rising funding costs.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares ended down 1.2 percent at an unofficial 1,322.18 points. Declining issues outnumbered advancers by four to one.

Euro-zone government bond yields and implied interest rates edged up after a media report suggested the European Central Bank won't ease policy this year as much as markets expect, a view given credence by a German steelworkers wage deal.

The price on U.S. benchmark 10-year notes <US10YT=RR> was flat at 96-22/32 after posting an earlier high of 97-4/32. Ten-year yield last traded 3.90 percent, little changed on the day.

U.S. oil CLc1 vaulted to record of $101.32 a barrel and settled up 73 cents at $101, a closing record, as OPEC supply concerns and hedge fund buying countered worries about the U.S. economy.

The gains extended a record rally that sent crude to over $100 on Tuesday on expectations the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will hold output levels steady or even reduce them when it meets next month.

London Brent LCOc1 settled 14 cents lower at $98.42 a barrel.

The euro <EUR=> was down 0.12 percent at $1.4707 from a previous session close of $1.4725. Against the Japanese yen, the dollar <JPY=> was up 0.38 percent at 108.17 from a previous session close of 107.76.

(Editing by Richard Satran)

© Reuters 2008 All rights reserved


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