In other news, President Obama urged homeowners to take advantage of new programs designed to help them refinance their mortgages at lower interest rates. Also, Kim Jong-il accepted a third term as North Korea's supreme military leader.
Read the Full Transcript
In other news today, stocks surged more than 3 percent on Wall Street after Wells Fargo projected record quarterly profits.
That boosted investor hopes that the financial sector may be stabilizing. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 246 points to close at 8,083. The Nasdaq rose more than 61 points to close at 1,652. For the week, the Dow gained almost 1 percent, and the Nasdaq was up almost 2 percent. The market is closed tomorrow for Good Friday.
The rally fueled a nearly 6 percent gain in oil prices, which settled above $52 a barrel in New York trading.
On the job front, there was some better-than-expected news. The Labor Department reported new claims for unemployment fell last week to 654,000. But overall, a record 5.8 million Americans are still receiving jobless benefits.
At the Economic Club of Washington, White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers signaled the end is in sight.
LARRY SUMMERS, White House economic adviser: I think the sense of a ball falling off a table, which is what the economy has felt like since the middle of last fall, I think that is going to — I think we can be reasonably confident that that's going to end within the next few months and that you'll no longer have that sense of freefall.
At the White House, President Obama encouraged homeowners to take advantage of near-record-low mortgage rates and refinance their home loans. The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is currently 4.87 percent.
The president made the push during a roundtable meeting with homeowners.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:
There are 7 million to 9 million people across the country who right now could be taking advantage of lower mortgage rates. That is money in their pocket. And we estimate that the average family can get anywhere from $1,600 to $2,000 a year in savings by taking advantage of these various mortgage programs that have been put in place.
The president also warned Americans to watch out for scam artists who demand money upfront before helping homeowners refinance.
President Obama was set to deliver his request to Congress for war funds today. Congressional aides put the figure at $83.4 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into the fall. If approved by Congress, that would bring the total amount for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 9/11 attacks to nearly $1 trillion.
In Iraq, a massive Shiite rally marked six years since Baghdad fell to U.S. troops. Supporters of the anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr were there to protest the U.S. presence in Iraq.
Thousands turned out in the same square where Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in 2003. They waved flags and banners demanding U.S. forces leave Iraq immediately. President Obama has pledged to remove all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il made a rare public appearance today. A visibly thinner Kim opened the first session of the communist country's parliament. He was greeted with a standing ovation. Kim also accepted a third term as North Korea's supreme military leader. It was his first major appearance since reportedly suffering a stroke last August.