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Published: 2/29/2012

Nasdaq hits 3,000; stocks fall on last day of best February in 14 years

ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK — The Nasdaq composite index briefly touched 3,000 on 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.

Apple, the Nasdaq’s biggest component, topped $500 billion in market value, the only company above the half-trillion mark and only the sixth in U.S. corporate history to grow so big. Apple might reveal its next iPad model next week.

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 on Wednesday before closing down 19.87 points at 2,966.89.

The Dow lost 53.05 to close at 10,952.07. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 6.50 points to close at 2,966.89.

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 mid-afternoon, after the Federal Reserve’s survey of regional economic conditions said the economy strengthened in the first six weeks of the year.

They turned negative after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testified on Capitol Hill that the economy has performed better than expected in recent months. He said gas prices will add to inflation and unemployment is falling faster than expected.

Mr. Bernanke’s remarks made it appear less likely that the Fed will begin another round of bond-buying to juice the economy. Bond-buying increases the money supply and could add to inflation, so signs of inflation make it a less appetizing option. And unemployment must remain high for the Fed to justify such an aggressive policy.

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 Mr. Bernanke’s remarks, from 1.94 percent minutes earlier. It fell back to 1.97 percent. Bond yields rise as their prices fall.

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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