Wall Street moves higher over hopes on housing

Wall Street also found encouragement after Visa said it planned to go ahead with a $19 billion initial public offering,

SHARES TEL AVIV The Tel Aviv-25 Index fell for the first time in three days, slipping 0.37, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1,116.09. Investors traded about NIS 2.09 billion in shares and convertible securities. BluePhoenix Solutions Ltd., a provider of legacy information modernization software, rose for a second day. The Herzliya-based company said it had received a two-year contract worth about $12 million to help modernize systems for "a large UK financial institution." Shares were up 1.6%. Delek Automotive Systems Ltd. climbed 1.5%, the highest since January 2. Clal Finance Batucha Investment Management Ltd. raised its share-price estimate for the importer of cars made by Mazda and Ford. Israel Chemicals Ltd. climbed for a sixth day, adding 0.8%. HSBC Holdings Plc raised its share-price estimate for the company that extracts minerals from the Dead Sea to make fertilizers. Israel Corp. rose to the highest in almost two months, jumping 3.4%. Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd., the company's shipping unit, may sell shares for trading in Hong Kong and Israel. Mizrahi Tefahot Bank Ltd., the country's fourth-largest bank, fell for the first time in three days, dropping 0.8%. Mizrahi plans to raise its capital adequacy ratio to 12% by 2009 to meet international banking standards. WALL STREET Wall Street advanced Monday on hopes that the worst housing slump in a quarter century might be nearing a bottom, a trend that could be the catalyst needed to revive the badly beaten financial sector. Investors, while still wary of recession, grew hopeful after the National Association of Realtors reported existing homes fell less than forecast. Some experts interpreted this as a housing market on the verge of bottoming out with a rebound expected to start toward the end of this year. Wall Street also found encouragement after Visa said it still planned to go ahead with a $19 billion initial public offering this year that could go down as the biggest in US history. Further, investors remained hopeful that troubled bond insurer Ambac Financial Group Inc. would receive a cash injection to help preserve its coveted "AAA" rating. The market this year has been prone to quick swings as investors buy on dips and then quickly cash out. In midday trading, the Dow rose 31.75, or 0.26%, to 12,412.77. The blue chip index had been up more than 100 points earlier in the session. Broader stock indexes also held on to gains. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 1.08, or 0.08%, to 1,354.19, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 3.18, or 0.14%, to 2,306.53. EUROPE European shares rallied Monday as financials made strong gains on deal talk and hopes for a bailout of troubled bond insurer Ambac Financial. The pan-European Dow Jones Stoxx 600 index rose 1.7% to 325.30, with banks and insurers in the lead. The UK's FTSE 100 Index closed up 1.9% at 5,999.50, the German DAX 30 blue-chip index advanced 1.1% to 6,882.56 and the French CAC-40 Index climbed 2% to 4,919.26. Dexia, the owner of US bond insurer FSA, rose 3.6% in Belgium. Other banking-sector standouts included UK mortgage lenders Bradford & Bingley, up 6.2%, and Alliance & Leicester, up 8.8%. ASIA Most Asian markets rose Monday after the easing of some concerns about the US financial sector. Hong Kong and Chinese exchanges, though, lost ground on worries about possible economic tightening measures on the mainland. Japan's benchmark Nikkei index jumped 3.1% to close at 13,914.6, a month-and-a-half high. Traders snapped up banks and insurers on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, taking their cue from Wall Street's dramatic turnaround Friday on reports that a bailout plan for troubled bond insurer Ambac Financial could be announced this week. CNBC's report of a possible plan to shore up the US financial group also helped to lift stock exchange benchmarks in Australia, India, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. CURRENCIES The shekel fell against the dollar to 3.6400 by 7:40 p.m. Monday, from 3.5820 on Friday, following the Bank of Israel's interest-rate decision. It has been the fourth-best performer among 11 emerging-market currencies in Europe, the Middle East and Africa over the past month. COMMODITIES Crude oil approached $100 a barrel on supply concerns heightened by a Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq and warnings by Iran against further international sanctions. Light, sweet crude for April delivery rose 5 cents to $98.86 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after earlier climbing as high as $99.70 a barrel. Gold futures fell sharply after the dollar gained a little muscle against the euro. Gold for April delivery shed $7.60 to $940.20 an ounce on the Nymex, after earlier falling as low as $935.50.