Trading volume rises but traders cautious
NEW YORK » Wall Street wandered through a listless session yesterday, finishing little changed as investors cast aside upbeat earnings at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Lowe's Cos. ahead of critical inflation and spending data later this week.
Strong results from Wal-Mart and Lowe's came as a sign that consumers are still spending despite the recent spike in energy costs, brightening the holiday sales outlook. A pair of multibillion- dollar acquisitions also helped the market's mood: Georgia-Pacific Corp. is being taken private and Host Marriott Corp. is buying 38 upscale hotels.
But with key government data on inflation and retail sales due this week, investors are waiting for indications of whether higher costs are driving up prices on consumer goods, said John Forelli, portfolio manager at Independence Investments LLC.
"Now that gas prices have come down, there's more confidence that inflation will be kept at bay," Forelli said. "But I'm not sure the market is really going to believe that until the (Federal Reserve) says so."
Forecasts for a cold snap in the Northeast pressured crude oil despite recent reports that U.S. supplies are adequate for increased demand this winter. A barrel of light crude gained 16 cents to $57.69 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. At the close of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 11.13, or 0.1 percent, to 10,697.17.
Declining issues outpaced advancers by 5 to 3 on the New York Stock Exchange, where preliminary consolidated volume of 1.93 billion shares topped the 1.78 billion shares traded Friday.
Broader stock indicators were lower. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 1.01, or 0.08 percent, to 1,233.71, and the Nasdaq composite index lost 1.52, or 0.07 percent, to 2,200.95.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies dropped 2.73, or 0.41 percent, to 663.93.
Bonds declined after an auction last week catapulted them from eight-month lows, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.61 percent from 4.56 percent last Thursday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, and gold prices slipped.
Wall Street is coming off a three-week advance fed by lower oil prices and positive economic numbers, which have eased fears about the impact of recent hurricanes. But persistent inflation and interest rate worries have investors scouring for any hint of the economy's health.
This week's economic data should determine if the market's recent rally will continue, said Richard Dickson, chief market strategist of Lowry's Research Reports.