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Dow nears 7,000 milestone

Records were smashed on Wall Street yesterday with the Dow Jones index soaring more than 100 points, breaking comfortably through the 6,900 level and closing tantalisingly close to the 7,000 mark.

Unexpectedly better-than-forecast results from Applied Materials, the maker of semi-conductor equipment, fuelled a surge in some of America's fastest-growing companies.

"People still think this market can deliver on earnings," commented James Margard, chief equity officer at Rainier Investment Management, on the Dow's 103.52-point surge to 6,961.63.

Analysts were wrong-footed by the announcement of first-quarter earnings of 48 cents a share from Applied Materials, comfortably ahead of the most optimistic expectations of 44 cents. Its stock price advanced $7 to slightly more than $52.