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Stocks record best February since 1998

The Nasdaq composite index briefly broke through 3,000 Wednesday for the first time since the collapse in dot-com stocks more than a decade ago. Stocks ended lower, but it was still the best February on Wall Street in 14 years.

The milestone for the Nasdaq, heavy with technology stocks, came a day after the Dow Jones industrial average closed above 13,000 for the first time since May 2008.

The Nasdaq last hit 3,000 on Dec. 13, 2000. Its last close above 3,000 was two days earlier. It was only above 3,000 for seconds Wednesday before closing down 19.87 points at 2,966.89.

The Dow lost 53.05 to close at 12,952.07. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 6.50 points to close at 1,365.68.

For the month, the Dow gained 2.5 percent, the S&P 4.1 percent and the Nasdaq 5.4 percent. The last time the stock market had such a strong February was in 1998, when the S&P gained 7 percent.

Stocks opened higher after the government said that the economy grew faster at the end of last year than previously estimated -- a 3 percent annual rate, the best reading since the spring of 2010.

Stocks fell sharply after about an hour, then recovered by midafternoon, after the Federal Reserve's survey of regional economic conditions said the economy strengthened in the first six weeks of the year.

U.S. Treasury debt plunged on speculation that the Fed wouldn't enter the market again. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note spiked to 2.02 percent during Chairman Ben Bernanke's remarks, from 1.94 percent minutes earlier. It fell back to 1.97 percent. Bond yields rise as their prices fall.

Materials and energy companies had the steepest losses of the S&P 500's 10 industry groups. Consumer staples was the only industry to close higher.

The Nasdaq has gained 14.5 percent this year, compared with 6.4 percent for the Dow and 9.1 percent for the S&P 500. The Nasdaq already has risen almost as much this year as it did in all of 2010. It edged lower in 2011.

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