Stocks trade aimlessly in a listless session
NEW YORK » Stocks ended a listless session little changed yesterday as cautious investors found few reasons to put money into the market, even as upbeat remarks on Alcoa Inc. and General Motors Corp. helped prop up the Dow Jones industrials.
Yesterday's aimless trading followed steep losses late last week, with Wall Street still uneasy about the possibility of more interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve. On Friday, upbeat employment data fueled worries about economic strength, another reason for the Fed to stay its course.
Art Hogan, chief market strategist for Jefferies & Co., said data on jobless claims later this week should draw a reaction from traders as they try to decipher the Fed's stance on inflation and the pace of domestic employment growth. For now, however, Wall Street will be idle without much news to drive it, he said.
"I think we're going through this natural vacuum in the news cycle where we have a quiet economic calendar and the fourth-quarter earnings reports are slowing down," Hogan said. "It's difficult to generate any interest in the market."
At the close of trading, the Dow rose 4.65, or 0.04 percent, to 10,798.27. The Dow lost 113 points last week after gaining almost 240 points the week before.
Broader stock indicators were mixed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 0.99, or 0.08 percent, to 1,265.02, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 3.78, or 0.17 percent, to 2,258.80.
News that Iran has stopped cooperating with U.N. officials over its nuclear arms program sparked fears about disruptions from one of the world's biggest oil suppliers and drove crude futures above $66 early in the session. However, a barrel of light crude slid 26 cents to settle at $65.11 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Among the Dow industrials, Alcoa rose $1.45 to $32.03 after JPMorgan analysts boosted the stock to "overweight" on indications that the market is ignoring strong aluminum prices and their potential impact on the company's earnings. JPMorgan also upgraded rival Alcan Inc., which added $1.72 to $49.78.
American International Group Inc., another Dow component, rose 66 cents to $66.01 after The Wall Street Journal said the insurance firm is near a deal with regulators to settle accounting fraud and other allegations.
Several analysts said GM, the world's biggest automaker, may consider cutting its dividend and review bids for a majority stake in finance unit General Motors Acceptance Corp. GM gained 19 cents to end at $23.34.