Comments help stocks register major gains

NEW YORK - Wall Street closed out another erratic week with a big gain Friday after investors took comments from President Bush and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as reassuring signs Wall Street won't be left to deal with problems in the mortgage and credit markets on its own.

Investors balked early in Friday's session when comments from Bernanke didn't indicate that a cut in the benchmark federal funds rate was imminent. However, they moved past some of their initial disappointment and appeared to concentrate on comments that the Fed would step in if needed.

Bernanke, speaking at the Fed's annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo., said the central bank will "act as needed" to prevent the credit crisis from hurting the national economy.

The major indexes fluctuated but held their gains after President Bush spoke about details of a plan to help borrowers facing trouble paying their mortgages.

"You've got all the speeches working for the market here," said Michael Church, portfolio manager at Church Capital Management in Philadelphia. "What we've seen in the last few weeks is that Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve are paying attention to what's going on. They will help correct the credit markets."

The Dow rose 119.01, or 0.90 percent, to 13,357.74. The Dow slipped 0.16 percent for the week; for the year the blue-chip index is up 7.2 percent despite the volatility of the past month.

Broader stock indicators also rose. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 16.35, or 1.12 percent, to 1,473.99. For the week, the S&P fell 0.36 percent, leaving it with a 3.9 percent gain for the year.

The Nasdaq composite index rose 31.06, or 1.21 percent, to 2,596.36. Bucking the trend of other major indexes, it gained 0.76 percent for the week and is up 7.5 percent for the year.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to its price, rose to 4.53 percent from 4.51 percent late Thursday. The U.S. bond market closed early ahead of the holiday weekend, and will be closed Monday along with the stock markets.

Since the stock market started tumbling in late July on fears that problems in mortgage and corporate lending would lead to a credit freeze and hurt the economy, the Fed has injected tens of billions of dollars into the banking system and lowered its discount rate - the charge on its loans to commercial banks. But the Fed hasn't yet said it will lower its funds rate, and Wall Street's uncertainty about what the central bank will do next has kept the markets volatile. The Fed's next meeting is Sept. 18, and some investors had expected the central bank might hint at or even go through with a rate cut before then.