US stocks hit 2009 highs. Back to the future?

Richard Drew/AP
Traders at the New York Stock Exchange saw stock indexes reach new highs for 2009 on Friday.

America's stock indexes rocketed up Friday to their best showing of the year and their highest level since early October.

Buoyed by a strong housing report and guardedly optimistic comments by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed nearly 156 points to close at 9505. The S&P 500 index was up nearly 2 percent to close at its highest level since Oct. 6, 2008. The Nasdaq, up 1.6 percent, climbed to its highest level since Oct.1, 2008.

The market's upward move parallels the American economy's slow crawl back to September 2008 levels, that late-summer era when global problems seemed big but manageable and before the Sept. 15 failure of Lehman Brothers threw everybody into a panic.

Some indicators have rebounded and now exceed last September's totals. Existing home sales numbers did that last month. Disposable personal income did it in April. But others, most notably unemployment and the stock market, are nowhere near last September's levels.

One can't expect a lagging indicator like unemployment to lead the rebound, so that's no surprise. The stock markets normally would. But the ongoing economic damage from the panic has made everyone from individual investors to Mr. Bernanke more cautious about what lies ahead.

For the S&P 500 to claw back to those days before the Lehman failure, it would have to gain another 22 percent from Friday's close. That's a tall order for a "back to the future" rally.

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