Closing Market Report

Star-Bulletin news services

Friday, March 30, 2001

Stocks rise amid weak
manufacturing data

By Amy Baldwin
Associated Press

NEW YORK >> Bargain hunters drove up stock prices today, a rare bright spot in what was one of the the Dow Jones industrial average's worst quarters in decades.

Investors overlooked signs that the economy has slumped even further and put aside fears about a recession to take advantage of cheaper prices of long-battered tech stocks and recently hard-hit blue chips. Likewise, mutual fund and money managers made end-of-quarter trades -- selling losers and picking up winners -- to better their portfolios' overall first-quarter results.

"The market is overlooking bad economic news and going about its way. With this large of a decline this quarter, there are some stocks to be bought out there," said Dan Ascani, president and research director of Global Market Strategists in Gainesville, Ga.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 79.72 to close at 9,878.78, but still posted its worst first quarter ever in terms of points -- down 908.07 -- and its 10th-worst in terms of percentage loss. The 8.4 percent decline for the first three months of 2001 was the Dow's worst first-quarter performance since 1978.

The Nasdaq composite index finished up 19.69 at 1,840.26, after closing yesterday at its lowest level in more than two years. The tech-heavy index fell 25.5 percent during the first three months of 2001 -- its worst percentge drop ever -- and is now more than 63 percent off its high of 5,048.62 reached last March.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 12.38 to close at 1,160.33, though it remains in bear market territory, more than 24 percent off its high.

Advancers outpaced decliners 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, with 2,114 up, 970 down and 212 unchanged. Volume was 1.5 billion shares vs. 1.4 billion yesterday.

The NYSE composite index rose 6.98 to 595.66, the American Stock Exchange composite index gained 15.59 to 877.04 and the Russell 2000 index rose 9.00 to 450.53.

The Treasury's 10-year note rose 22/32 to 100 2332; its yield fell 9 basis points to 4.91 percent. The 30-year bond rose 34 to 99; its yield fell 5 basis points to 5.44 percent.

The market indicators put together today's gains gradually as investors traded cautiously, partly on expectations that earnings will suffer all year, and partly because of a report by the Purchasing Management Association of Chicago, analysts said. The group reported that its index of business activity in the Midwest fell to 35.0 in March, its lowest level since March 1982. Any number below 50 indicates business in the manufacturing sector is contracting. Analysts had expected a reading of 43.5, slightly higher than the 43.2 level reported for February. The Chicago survey is watched closely for clues to the index of the National Association of Purchasing Management, which will be released Monday.

Blue chips have fallen hard in the last two weeks -- with the Dow briefly landing in bear market territory last week -- as investors saw signs that the ill effects of the slowing economy have hurt more than just the technology sector.

Elsewhere, the University of Michigan's index on consumer sentiment came in at 91.5, up from 90.6 in February.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei slipped 0.6 percent, or 72.66 points, to 2,999.70.

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