Techs Back On Top

Stocks surged Wednesday on news that retail sales unexpectedly rose in January, and Applied Materials paced tech sector gains after the chip equipment leader posted better than expected quarterly results.

The Commerce Department reported a 0.3% retail sales gain in January, much better than the second straight monthly decline that economists expected. Along with news that an economic stimulus bill was signed into law by President Bush, the news gave investors hope that the economic downturn may be short-lived.

AMAT surged 10% on its results, which were down from the year-ago quarter but better than analysts expected, thanks to strength in the company’s growing solar energy business. The company raised sales guidance on the strength of a bigger than expected rise in new orders.

Yahoo rose 1% on reports that it could seek a partnership with News Corp. to stave off Microsoft’s hostile takeover bid, even as reports emerged that Google may be backing off from a possible partnership with Yahoo.

Nortel soared 12.5% on reports of a possible wireless network equipment venture with Motorola.

Palm was up 6.5% on strong Centro sales, and Qwest gained 7.4% on an upgrade following strong results. But Blue Nile fell 17% on its financial outlook.

Apple, Research In Motion, Dell and HP were also big gainers. was up 6% ahead of its results — then added to those gains after the bell with quarterly sales that surpassed Wall Street forecasts.

The Nasdaq surged 53 to 2373, the S&P gained 18 to 1367, and the Dow rose 178 to 12,552. Volume declined to 3.86 billion shares on the NYSE, and rose to 2.26 billion on the Nasdaq. Advancers led by a 22-11 margin on the NYSE, and 21-8 on the Nasdaq. Upside volume was 77% on the NYSE, and 89% on the Nasdaq. New highs-new lows were 36-85 on the NYSE, and 49-91 on the Nasdaq.

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