Takeover deals help Wall Street advance
NEW YORK » Wall Street managed a moderate advance yesterday as a spate of takeover deals gave investors enough confidence to buy into the market despite a report showing that U.S. manufacturing is more sluggish than expected.
Investors drew support from big acquisitions announced before trading began, including deals to take credit card transaction processor First Data Corp. and media conglomerate Tribune Co. private. But gains were limited by the Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index, which slipped more than economists projected in March. The index moved to a reading of 50.9 last month, compared to an expected reading of 51.0.
Also, putting pressure on technology stocks, the Semiconductor Industry Association said total chip sales in February fell to $20.09 billion from $21.48 in January due to seasonal weakness, lower manufacturing capacity and price cuts.
Wall Street has traded nervously the past few weeks on concerns about rising inflation and the overall health of the economy. On Friday, the major indexes finished the first quarter lower -- with the Dow Jones industrials down 108 points in their feeblest performance since the second quarter of 2005.
St. Louis Federal Reserve President William Poole said in a speech to bankers in New York that inflation is still a "major concern." He said inflation levels could require more rate hikes, and that a U.S. recession remains conceivable. But Poole, whose comments have moved stocks in the past, had little lasting impact yesterday.
"If you're listening to the Fed, this is just more of the same -- I think the focus is going to turn from little bits of data on inflation to earnings very quickly," said Matt Kelmon, portfolio manager of the Kelmoore Strategy Funds. "The Fed just doesn't want everyone to get excited about a rate cut, and we'll see an even bias out of them for the next few months."
The Dow rose 27.95, or 0.23 percent, to 12,382.30. The benchmark index is now 404 points below its record close reached Feb. 20.
Broader stock indicators also rose slightly. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 3.69, or 0.26 percent, to 1,424.55, and the Nasdaq composite index edged up 0.62, or 0.03 percent, to 2,422.26.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gained 2.51, or 0.31 percent, at 803.22.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 5 to 3 on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to 2.80 billion shares, down from 2.81 billion shares on Friday.
Bonds moved lower after the ISM report showed slower growth amid accelerating price pressures. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 4.64 percent from 4.63 percent at Friday's close. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.
Oil prices advanced slightly as investors speculated about how tensions between Iran and Britain could interrupt supply from the Middle East. A barrel of light sweet crude rose 7 cents to $65.94 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.