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Dow tops the 13,000 milestone

NEW YORK - With the Dow Jones industrial average now above the 13,000 milestone, many analysts predict the next thousand points won't come so easily.

NEW YORK - With the Dow Jones industrial average now above the 13,000 milestone, many analysts predict the next thousand points won't come so easily.

Wall Street's best-known index surged past the record number in the first few minutes of trading yesterday, just a little more than six months after it hit 12,000. There was little fanfare on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, where optimism was eclipsed by a general feeling that the stock market was fragile, not on a roll.

Investors, including retirees and money managers in charge of multimillion-dollar funds, said they viewed 13,000 as just another number. And they expressed concern that Wall Street remains susceptible to several ills that could send the market tumbling: uncertainty about the U.S. economy, higher energy prices, and a housing market still in flux.

"Investing is like picking a road trip, and watching the mile markers along the highway," said Larry Reno, a retired civil servant from Fayetteville, Ga., who has been investing for about four decades. "This is just another mile marker along the way. It doesn't affect how I invest."

For bulls and bears alike, forecasting Dow 14,000 is tricky business - and premature.

The Dow and the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite have recorded gains for three straight weeks on optimism about both the economy and corporate earnings. But the advance has been somewhat tenuous - more reacting to corporate and economic events rather than demonstrating real leadership.

Bill Strazzullo, a strategist at Bell Curve Trading, said there was a certain amount of nonchalance among investors. He said he believes that the Dow will continue to drift higher this year, but that the market doesn't have anywhere near the exuberance or reasons to keep climbing that it did during the dot-com boom.

"The higher you go, the case has to be that much more compelling to continue to carry the risk and take more risk," he said. "You have to ask yourself, 'We're across the board at multiyear highs; what's the catalyst to take us that much higher?' "

He noted that first-quarter earnings are coming in stronger than expected because analysts set the bar lower. Out of 19 Dow members that had reported first-quarter results through yesterday, 13 surpassed Wall Street projections. But overall corporate results continue to slow from the more than three years of double-digit profit growth attained by members of the S&P 500.

After corporate results no longer have a commanding influence on the markets, investors will again hinge their bets on economic data - which have proved this year to be unpredictable.

The Dow's record-setting climb also might not be indicative of the rest of the market. Blue chips tend to fare well when the economy slows, maintaining profit levels because their operations are spread out overseas. That effect is heightened when foreign currencies are rising against the dollar, as they are now.

Many market watchers believe a better barometer will come if the S&P 500 crosses 1,527.46 - the record it hit during the tech heyday in the spring of 2000. That index, the one most closely followed by professional investors, is now hovering just under 1,500.

Dow Milestones

The Dow Jones industrial average was first published in 1896. Here are dates when it crossed each 1,000-point level.

1,000Nov. 14, 1972

2,000Jan. 8, 1987

3,000April 17, 1991

4,000Feb 23, 1995

5,000Nov. 21, 1995

6,000Oct. 14, 1996

7,000Feb. 13, 1997

8,000July 16, 1997

9,000April 6, 1998

10,000March 29, 1999

11,000May 3, 1999

12,000Oct. 19, 2006


SOURCE: Inquirer research