Stocks finish mixed as Dow moves higher
NEW YORK » Wall Street finished mixed yesterday, nudging the Dow Jones industrials higher for a fourth straight session but moving cautiously as investors awaited new data to assess whether their hopes for an interest rate cut are justified.
Investors seemed uncertain about where to take stocks a day after the Federal Reserve issued an economic assessment interpreted as opening up the possibility of a reduction in short-term rates.
The Dow has had its best four-day point gain since May 2005; whether it continues the streak will depend much on today's report on existing homes sales, inventories and prices for February. The Dow rose 13.62, or 0.11 percent, to 12,461.14.
Broader indicators slipped. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.50, or 0.03 percent, to 1,434.54. The technology-dominated Nasdaq composite index declined 4.18, or 0.17 percent, to 2,451.74, pulled lower in large part by a profit warning by cell phone maker Motorola Inc.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was up 0.58, or 0.07 percent, at 808.05.
Advancing issues narrowly outnumbered decliners on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.62 billion shares, compared to 1.63 billion Wednesday.
"Surprisingly, the market's holding on to yesterday's gains," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at New York-based brokerage house Avalon Partners Inc.
Yesterday, oil prices climbed more than $2 to $61.69 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. U.S. retail gasoline prices have surged about 20 percent over the past two months as stockpiles decline ahead of the peak driving season.
Giving investors some relief, though, was the U.S. Labor Department's report that the number of laid-off workers seeking unemployment benefits fell to 316,000 last week, the third consecutive decline -- usually a good sign that consumers are finding work and likely able to keep spending.
Bonds fell sharply after the jobs data, pushing up the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note to 4.59 percent from 4.54 percent late yesterday. The 10-year yield was slightly higher than that of the 2-year, which many market participants took as a positive development. Prior to Wednesday, short-term yields had exceeded long-term yields since August 2006, in a pattern that some say portends a recession.
The dollar rose against other major currencies, while gold prices climbed.
Technology companies came under pressure after Motorola warned it will swing to a first-quarter loss due to declining sales. The cell phone maker fell $1.24, or 6.6 percent, to $17.50, a level not seen in nearly two years.
Palm Inc. fell $1.71, or 8.8 percent, to $17.74, as investors' speculation diminished that the smart phone and handheld device maker could be bought by Motorola.
Barnes & Noble Inc. reported a rise in fiscal fourth-quarter results, but the figure missed expectations. Rival book, music and movie seller Borders Group Inc. said it swung to a fourth-quarter loss.
Barnes & Noble fell $1.10, or 2.8 percent, to $37.90, and Borders fell 73 cents, or 3.4 percent, to $20.70.