Dow poised to end 2005 virtually flat
NEW YORK » Stocks meandered through a listless session yesterday, ending lower as investors ignored generally benign economic data and looked ahead to 2006 with a mix of optimism and concern.
Wall Street was unmoved by the Labor Department's latest take on unemployment, the only economic indicator released before the session. First-time jobless claims rose by an expected 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 322,000.
Other economic reports were likewise mild. The Chicago Purchasing Managers Association index of Midwestern economic activity was relatively steady at 61.5 in December, compared to 61.7 in November. And home sales declined modestly in November, according to the National Association of Realtors.
With the new year coming, investors consolidated their holdings with an eye toward the Federal Reserve, which is expected to stop raising interest rates early in 2006 -- though exactly when remains to be seen. And that uncertainty made it difficult to buy stocks.
"The economic news has been very good, but the Fed remains somewhat of a mystery," said Scott Wren, equity strategist for A.G. Edwards & Sons. "It's the same problem that's really held us back all month and it'll continue to be a problem until we get some more clarity from the Fed."
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 11.44, or 0.11 percent, to 10,784.82.
Broader stock indicators also fell. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 3.75, or 0.3 percent, to 1,254.42, and the Nasdaq composite index dropped 10.78, or 0.48 percent, to 2,218.16.
Energy prices rose after the government's weekly inventory data showed minimal gains in crude oil reserves. A barrel of light crude settled at $60.32, up 50 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
With the uncertainty over the Fed, the markets may continue to tread water into 2006 despite strong earnings and a robust economy.
"We're just winding down the year, ending the year with these sort of small, middling gains, which to me makes sense because you've had opposing factors this year," said Russ Koesterich, senior portfolio manager at Barclays Global Investments in San Francisco. "On the one hand you've had good earnings and a robust economy, but on the other hand, you've been fighting the Fed. The two canceled each other out."
With one trading day left in 2005, the Dow is up just 0.02 percent on the year, while the S&P has risen 3.51 percent and the Nasdaq has gained 1.96 percent.