Stocks Mostly Advance on Plan for Mortgage Giants

NEW YORK - Stocks mostly advanced Monday as investors rushed to lay bets on a recovery in the financial and housing sectors following the weekend announcement that the U.S. government will bail out mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Dow Jones industrials gained more than 100 points but the technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index declined.

The announcement Sunday that the Treasury Department was seizing control of the companies, which own or back about half the nation's mortgage debt, brushed aside investors' long-simmering worries that the pair would be felled by a spike in bad mortgage debt.

The plan to inject up to $100 billion in each of the government-chartered mortgage financiers could not only help lower mortgage rates but, some investors are hoping, buoy the overall economy. The plan could help banks feel more open to write new mortgages and to refinance existing mortgages at lower rates, offering a possible lifeline to consumers struggling with increasing payments.

But the government's steadying hand for two institutions that many Wall Street observers had said were simply too big to let fail still might not alleviate troubles of some homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgages.

Dave Rovelli, managing director of U.S. equity trading at Canaccord Adams in New York, said while the plan boosts confidence in sectors like financials and home builders, it doesn't immediately alleviate worries about other areas of the economy. Still, he said the move was far more welcome than a collapse of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

"It saves Armageddon from happening," he said. "If you think about it this helps the financials, this helps the housing market. Tech took a huge hit last week. Does this really affect tech? I don't think so."

In midday trading, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 112.85, or 1.01 percent, to 11,333.81 after being up nearly 350 points in the early going.

Broader stock indicators were mixed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index jumped 6.80, or 0.55 percent, to 1,249.11, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 7.61, or 0.34 percent, to 2,248.27.

Bond prices pulled back Monday. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.71 percent from 3.69 percent late Friday. The dollar was higher against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

Common shareholders of the stock of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be virtually wiped out by the plan, which would balloon the shares of companies to give a nearly 80 percent stake to the government. But the companies' shares had already suffered huge declines in the last year so many shareholders have already endured the majority of their losses.

Fannie Mae shares plunged $6.02, or 86 percent, to $1.02, while Freddie Mac fell $4.15, or 81 percent, to 95 cents.

Other financial names rallied, particularly those seen as having big exposure to mortgages. Bank of America Corp. jumped $1.33, or 4.1 percent, to $33.56, while Wachovia Corp. rose 84 cents, or 5 percent, to $17.59. Citigroup Inc. rose 76 cents, or 4 percent, to $19.83.

Among financials, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. was one of the few decliners, falling $2.86, or 18 percent, to $13.39 as investors worried that the No. 4 U.S. investment bank was having trouble finding an investor to help shore up its balance sheet.

Home builders also jumped alongside most financials. Lennar Corp. rose 52 cents, or 3.8 percent, to $14.08, and KB Home advanced $1.55, or 7.5 percent, to $22.16.

The U.S. government's plan also touched off a global stock rally Monday. Foreign investors holding debt of the companies were relieved as were investors simply looking for stronger growth from the U.S. economy, particularly as many economies abroad give off signs they are slowing. Japan's Nikkei stock average jumped 3.4 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng index surged 4.3 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 jumped 3.81 percent, Germany's DAX index rose 3.06 percent, and France's CAC-40 surged 3.42 percent.

Oil fell again after logging steep declines last week as investors worried that a slowing global economy would hurt demand. Light, sweet crude declined $1.18 to $105.05 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil rose early Monday as Hurricane Ike fanned unease about the well-being of Gulf of Mexico oil infrastructure that could be in its path.

In corporate news, Washington Mutual Inc. fell 73 cents, or 17 percent, to $3.54 after removing Kerry Killinger from the chief executive spot. The savings and loan is working to overhaul its business, which has been hurt by bad mortgage debt. Alan H. Fishman is replacing Killinger.

Altria Group Inc. announced it will buy UST, the maker of Skoal and Copenhagen smokeless tobacco, for about $10.3 billion. The maker of Marlboro cigarettes said it will pay $69.50 per share. UST shares jumped Friday to finish at $67.55 following a report of the deal and gained 98 cents to $68.53 Monday. Altria rose 28 cents to $21.23.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 3 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 819.2 million shares.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 6.53, or 0.91 percent, to 725.38.


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