Major indexes finish mixed as rally pauses
NEW YORK » Wall Street's four-day rally paused yesterday, with the major indexes finishing mixed as optimism over a potential end to the Federal Reserve's string of interest rates clashed with investors' desire to take profits after the run higher.
With slowing economic growth and little evidence of inflation, the market is getting more optimistic that the Fed, which meets next Tuesday, would stop raising rates by May.
However, with stocks up for four straight sessions last week and the Dow Jones industrials and Standard & Poor's 500 index at highs not seen since May 2001, confidence in the market's ability to keep advancing could be faltering. And the impetus to lock in profits ahead of the Fed meeting could prove tempting for cautious investors.
"There's really not a lot of information here to work with, and I think the market's taking a rest," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank. "We're still a few weeks away from first-quarter earnings, so all you have to focus on is a slowing economy and interest rates."
The Dow fell 5.12, or 0.05 percent, to 11,274.53.
Broader stock indicators were narrowly mixed. The S&P lost 2.17, or 0.17 percent, to 1,305.08, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 7.63, or 0.33 percent, to 2,314.11.
Bonds were higher, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note falling to 4.66 percent from 4.67 percent late Friday. The dollar rose against most major currencies, while gold prices also moved higher.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers by about 9 to 7 on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to 2.07 billion shares, compared to 2.66 billion traded Friday, when options and futures contract expirations sent volume higher.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 0.47, or 0.06 percent, to 745.62.
Oil prices tumbled, helping to mitigate the stock market's losses. A barrel of light crude settled at $60.42, down $2.35, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators slipped in February, falling 0.2 percent after January's 0.5 percent rise. The January figure was revised from 1 percent as well -- a signal that the economy could be slowing down. While a slowing economy bodes well for fewer rate hikes, it also shows that economic growth has already begun to slow, which could affect future corporate earnings.
"I think, overall, we're seeing some friendly economic data that helped the market out," said Russ Koesterich, senior portfolio manager at Barclays Global Investments in San Francisco. "That said, there's not a lot of catalysts out there that could take us much higher."