Stocks gain, dollar falls ahead of holiday weekend

Black Friday, which marks the kickoff of the holidays shopping season, is so named because it historically was when stores turned a profit.

SHARES WALL STREET Stocks rose as investors capped a capricious week by engaging in a bit of Black Friday bargain hunting while awaiting word of how retailers might fare during what is expected to be a tough holiday shopping season. Friday's holiday-shortened session ended three hours early and followed fractious trading that on Wednesday saw the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500 index give up more than 1.5 percent. The S&P's climb Friday put the index back into positive territory for the year. The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, which marks the kickoff of the holidays shopping season, is so named because it historically was when stores turned a profit. The day's gains weren't enough to reverse losses for the week, however, and observers cautioned the session could prove more an aberration than a reversal of recent trends. With many of Wall Street's principal players on vacation, volume was light as is typical on such days. "While I'd love to celebrate this rally, it is on very thin volume and we have to really wait until next week to get a sense of the true direction of this market," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago. Still, he said it's a good sign that stocks didn't extend Wednesday's slide. "It looks like a little rebound rally," Ablin said. "Maybe the day off for Thanksgiving enabled investors to reflect that maybe the bottom isn't falling out of the economy." The Dow rose 181.84, or 1.42%, to 12,980.88, finishing at the highs of the session rather than losing steam in the final minutes as has occurred often in recent weeks. Broader stock indicators also rose. The Standard & Poor's 500 index advanced 23.93, or 1.69%, to 1,440.70, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 34.45, or 1.34%, to 2,596.60. For the week, the Dow lost 1.49%, the S&P slid 1.24% and the Nasdaq gave up 1.54%. Government bonds showed little movement. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to its price, stood at 4.01%, flat with late Wednesday. The dollar was lower against other major currencies, while gold prices rose. With no major economic data arriving and not much in the way of corporate news, some investors appeared to make some pro forma trades and search for any insights into the health of the economy, particularly with the arrival of Black Friday. Friday's advance comes after the S&P 500 on Wednesday slipped into negative territory for the year - unwelcome news as many investments such as mutual funds mirror the index. By Friday, however, the S&P had rebounded and was up 1.58% for the year. The stock market's recent swoon is owed in part to concerns about the health of the banking sector and how it will emerge from a recent string of write-offs on soured subprime loans, which are those made to borrowers with poor credit. Banks have announced about $75 billion in writedowns for the third and fourth quarters. Ron Kiddoo, chief investment officer at Cozad Asset Management in Champaign, Illinois, said Wall Street needs a dose of good news such as continued strength in the job market to shed its sense of anxiety. "There just needs to be a realization that while subprime is crucial it's not had an effect on jobs yet and it hasn't had a great effect on the overall economy." Analysts view a robust labor market as crucial to upholding strong consumer spending. EUROPE European stocks moved higher Friday, with the insurance sector leading from the front amid speculation that Axa SA is exploring a takeover of its domestic peer CNP Assurances. Mining shares rose alongside the price of copper and zinc, while HSBC raised its recommendation on Anglo American. The UK's FTSE 100 Index added 1.7% to 6262.10, while France's CAC-40 Index jumped 1.9% to 5521.17. Germany's DAX Index advanced 0.6% to 7608.96. ASIA Most Asian stock markets rebounded Friday, wrapping up a turbulent week characterized by growing anxiety over a slowdown in the US economy and fallout from the credit crisis there. Those fears would likely weigh on sentiment into next week, analysts said. But with no bad news overnight from the US due to the holiday there Thursday, investors bid up stocks in Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. "The market was free of bad news from the US, thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday," said Anothai Chiengtawan, an analyst with IV Global Securities in Bangkok. In Taiwan and South Korea, however, shares fell, and Tokyo was closed for a holiday. Hong Kong shares rebounded from two days of steep losses, lifted by property developers and oil companies. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index rose 2.1%, or 536.17 points, to 26,541.09. The index had plunged 6.5% the previous two days. CURRENCY The dollar hit a new low against the euro in thin trading Friday as speculation continued that the American credit crisis will lead to another cut in interest rates in the US The 13-nation European currency spiked early to hit $1.4966, breaking the previous record of $1.4873, set the day before. In late afternoon trading, the euro had retreated to $1.4838, up from the $1.4833 it bought late in Europe the day before, but down from the $1.4848 it bought in New York late Wednesday. The dollar fell to purchase as little as 107.56 Japanese yen, dropping below the 108-yen level for the first time since 2005. It recovered slightly to purchase 108.18 yen, down from 108.62 yen late in Europe on Thursday and 108.68 yen in American trading Wednesday. The British pound, meanwhile, fell to $2.0612 from $2.0634 the day before in Europe and $2.0644 in New York Wednesday. COMMODITIES Heating oil futures gained 1.68 cents to $2.7042 on the Nymex. Light, sweet crude for January delivery gained 89 cents to $98.18 a barrel, while gasoline for December delivery rose 2.99 cents to $2.467 a gallon. Gold climbed to $824.70 an ounce to close up $26.10 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, while silver and platinum prices also rose. Investors often turn to gold, in particular, to hedge against declining currency values and economic uncertainty. December silver rose 31.5 cents to close at $14.735 an ounce on the Nymex, while January platinum added $13.30 to settle at $1,480.50 an ounce. Nymex copper for December delivery gained 10.3 cents to finish at $2.991 a pound.