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Markets rise on optimism over end to election bickering

As the United States heads into what may be the home stretch of the hotly contested presidential election, optimistic investors push up the major stock markets.

    As the United States headed Monday into what may be the home stretch of the hotly contested presidential election, optimistic investors pushed up the major stock markets.

    The Nasdaq composite index closed up 97.65, or 3 percent, to 3,015.08--its first close above the 3,000 level since mid-November. The Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed 10.31 to 1,380.20, while the Dow Jones industrial average rose 12.89 to 10,725.80.

    About four stocks rose for every three that declined on the Nasdaq, which posted a volume of 2.43 billion shares--its seventh-largest day ever. Volume on the New York Stock Exchange was heavy at more than 1.2 billion shares, as about 17 stocks advanced for every 12 decliners.

    The market posted solid gains last week. The Nasdaq gained 10 percent during the week, while the Dow rose 3 percent, and the S&P climbed 4 percent.

    Many experts say a possible end to the presidential election uncertainties is driving the markets upward.

    Lawyers for Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush spent 90 minutes before the Supreme Court on Monday morning, arguing over whether a manual recount of presidential election ballots in Florida should resume. The debate ended around 9:30 a.m. PST, and it is widely anticipated that the justices will make a decision by the end of the day.

    On Friday, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a vote recount, a process that political experts said would likely favor Gore's victory in the state. But on Saturday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 ruling along party lines to halt the Florida recount that had just begun. Whoever wins the Florida election will assume the presidency.

    After weeks of decline owing to the presidential election turmoil, the markets reacted positively to what appear to be the final moments of the contested election. Todd Clark, head of listed trading at WR Hambrecht, described the mood on Wall Street as "cautious optimism."

    "Given what happened Friday, everybody's a little hesitant right now," he said. The markets "are probably done on the upside for a while until we find out what the Supreme Court says."

    The CNET tech index rose 61.03 to 2,442.30. Advancers led decliners, with 73 of the 97 stocks in the index rising, 22 falling and two remaining unchanged.

    Of the 18 sectors tracked by CNET Investor, Internet e-tailers and semiconductor equipment makers posted the sharpest gains, rising about 6 percent each. Server hardware makers were the day's largest losers, falling nearly 8 percent.

    Large-cap tech stocks showed some leadership. Intel closed up $3.44 to $37.44; Microsoft climbed $3.63 to $58.06; Cisco Systems advanced $2.44 to $54.81; and Vitesse Semiconductor gained $3.13 to $64.25.

    Sun Microsystems fell $4.94 to $34 as prominent Wall Street analysts debate the company's future financial performance.

    At the root of the Sun debate is "whether Sun is anxiously defending ground it feels it is slowly losing to cheaper Intel-based systems on the low-end (of server and storage markets), or whether there is a meaningful incremental growth opportunity looking forward," analysts A.M. Sacconaghi and Elliot Rothstein of Berstein wrote in a report drafted Monday.

    Sun has also been plagued in recent trading sessions by rumors about alleged accounting irregularities. After the close of regular trading on Wall Street, the company issued a statement insisting that the rumors "have no basis in fact and are false."

    JNI fell $28.25, or nearly 45 percent, to $34.75, making it the largest percentage loser on the Nasdaq. The maker of computer data storage equipment said it expects fourth-quarter earnings of between 18 cents and 22 cents a share, excluding amortization. Wall Street expects the company to post earnings of 20 cents a share, the consensus estimate of four analysts surveyed by First Call/Thomson Financial.

    Adtran lost $4.19, or nearly 15 percent, to $23.88. The maker of equipment used to deliver high-speed Internet access said fourth-quarter sales will fall short of its forecasts. The Huntsville, Ala.-based company expects to earn a net income of 16 cents to 20 cents a share, while analysts surveyed by First Call estimated the company would make 55 cents a share.

    More Wall Street analysts warned that Web giant Yahoo will not live up to financial expectations, citing concerns that online advertising revenue will weaken. Yahoo fell $1.06 to $33.88.

    Chip stocks made sizable gains. The Philadelphia semiconductor index rose 44.43, or almost 7 percent, to 682.77, led by chip equipment maker Applied Materials, which rose $6.75, or 15 percent, to $50.94.