Closing Market Report

Star-Bulletin news services

Wall Street mixed
in continued lull

By Amy Baldwin
Associated Press

NEW YORK >> Wall Street extended its holiday lull today, closing mixed as investors refrained from making big bets.

The market couldn't quite shake off last week's four-session losing streak, which was based on worries about higher oil prices and inflation and which thwarted the usual Santa Claus rally.

Today's trading was lackluster due to a lack of major earnings or economic news and the fact that many traders were absent ahead of New Year's.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 29.07, or 0.4 percent, at 8,332.85, according to preliminary calculations. Last week, the Dow lost 2.4 percent.

Wall Street's broader gauges were mixed. The Nasdaq composite index fell 8.78, or 0.7 percent, to 1,339.53 after falling 1.1 percent last week. The Standard & Poor's 500 index advanced 3.99, or 0.5 percent, to 879.39, following last week's loss of 2.3 percent.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners 4 to 3 on the New York Stock Exchange. Trading volume was light.

The Russell 2000 index, which tracks smaller company stocks, fell 1.93, or 0.5 percent, to 382.23.

The NYSE composite index gained 2.66 to 471.56. The American Stock Exchange composite index slipped 0.60 to 820.79.

"People are still worried about the economy. ... It is just uncertainty in Iraq and rising oil prices aren't good for the economy. Buyers have just retreated," said Michael Murphy, head trader at Wachovia Securities in Baltimore.

The market has forfeited the so-called Santa Claus rally, which typically begins just before Christmas and runs through the end of the year. Historically, the last two weeks of the year are robust for Wall Street as investors get really optimistic about the new year.

But this year, rising oil prices have reminded investors that inflation could pose another threat to the uncertain economic recovery. Increasing tension in Iraq and an oil strike in Venezuela have already sent crude prices surging.

"Once again, the scenario is earnings, the economy and external risks ... Investors are sitting on the fence," said Alan Ackerman, executive vice president of Fahnestock & Co.

Intel fell 64 cents to $15.76 and Broadcom declined 67 cents to $15.25.

Wal-Mart rose $1.48 to $50.64 after saying today that sales were strong during Christmas week but that it still expects only a modest increase for the season.

Wal-Mart earlier reduced its holiday sales forecast, projecting to a range of 2 percent to 3 percent from 3 percent to 5 percent.

And, Halliburton inched up 10 cents to $18.50 after Banc of America Securities reiterated its "buy" recommendation on the oil services company.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average finished Monday down 1.6 percent. In Europe, France's CAC-40 advanced 0.4 percent, while Britain's FTSE 100 and Germany's DAX index each gained 1.9 percent.

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