New York market: Rate increase bolsters investors' confidence

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The Independent Online
RISING interest rates have been about the only thing tempering enthusiasm for the stock market lately. Yet some investors and analysts say long-term rates may be more likely to fall than rise in coming months, which could lift stocks further.

They aren't expecting the yield on the 30-year Treasury to drop to 4 per cent this week from its current 5.81 per cent. They're looking for rates to decline gradually - as they have since 1981 - and fuel a further stock market advance.

Rates have risen in recent weeks along with shares of economically sensitive companies, pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 20 per cent this year. Investors are betting that the global economy - and inflation - will pick up. Tom Galvin, chief investment officer at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, said the inflation concern is overblown.

"The market is skittish because of the perception that this is a classic recovery and that will result in a classic increase in rates," Mr Galvin said. "I think that's shortsighted."

Although oil shares have risen, commodity prices, as measured by the CRB/Bridge Futures Price Index, are little changed year-to-date, he said. And any rise in commodity prices tends to have little effect on consumer prices, said Ian Shepherdson, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics. "I'm looking at the commodity price increase for what it says about the world economy, not what it says about US inflation," he said.

In the US, the Labor Department said on Friday that hourly earnings rose just 0.2 per cent in April, less than the 0.3 per cent expected. The previous week, the government said the employment cost index, the broadest measure of wage, salary and benefit costs, rose 0.4 per cent in the first three months of the year, after increasing 0.7 per cent in the fourth quarter.

Concern about inflation picking up and pushing rates higher held back gains in the market last week. The Nasdaq Composite Index fell 1.5 per cent. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 0.7 per cent, and the Dow, packed with the so-called cyclical stocks that rise as the economy grows, gained 2.3 per cent.

Still, the interest-rate optimists are in good company. While Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned on Thursday that imbalances in the economy could end low inflation, he also suggested that advances in technology may be changing how the economy works - reducing the danger that prices will rise.