Bernanke’s words boost US markets

THE S&P 500 rebounded from its worst week so far this year to retake a four-year high yesterday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke signalled supportive monetary policy will remain even though the job picture has begun to improve.

The three major US stock indexes climbed 1 per cent or more and all 10 S&P 500 sectors advanced. Gains were led by S&P technology shares, with that sector’s index up 1.7 per cent, and the S&P health care sector index also up 1.7 per cent. Shares of International Business Machines, up 1.1 per cent at $207.77, gave the Dow its biggest boost.

Bernanke’s comments came as investors try to gauge how much longer a nearly six-month rally in stocks will last and reinforced the view that further quantitative easing, or QE3, from the Fed may be possible.

The S&P 500 is up 25 per cent since the end of September, mostly on optimism about the pace of economic growth. With stimulus from the Fed and an improving economy, the climate for stocks is even friendlier.

“There is still a lot of cash on the sidelines looking for a pullback, and I suspect some people over the weekend said, ‘Yeah, maybe I’ll put some money in,’ and then you get Ben Bernanke’s comments and that stoked the fire,” said Bob Doll, BlackRock’s vice chairman and global chief investment officer in New York.

The Dow Jones industrial average shot up 160.90 points, or 1.23 per cent, to 13,241.63 at the close. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gained 19.40 points, or 1.39 per cent, to 1,416.51. The Nasdaq Composite Index climbed 54.65 points, or 1.78 per cent, to 3,122.57.

As the quarter draws to a close, hedge funds that have been underinvested in stocks could be doing some last-minute shopping for winners in the big rally, strategists said. Financials have led the rally, though almost all S&P 500 sectors are expected to post gains for the quarter.

The S&P financial index is up 23 per cent, with just four days to go until the end of the quarter.

In his talk, Bernanke said the US economy needed to grow more quickly if it is to produce enough jobs to continue to bring down the unemployment rate.

“Further significant improvements in the unemployment rate will likely require a more rapid expansion of production and demand from consumers and businesses, a process that can be supported by continued accommodative policies, he said.