- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

NEW YORK, Feb. 13 (UPI) — Stock prices on the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq Stock Market continued to slide in cautious trading Thursday as concerns over a possible war with Iraq offset some favorable economic news.

The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average fell 8.30 points, or 0.11 percent, at 7,79.87, having lost 84.91 points Wednesday. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index lost 1.53 points, or 0.12 percent, to close at 1,775.98, after falling 16.49 points in the previous session.

The broader New York Stock Exchange composite index, on the other hand, gained 3.54 points to 4,653.25, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 1.31 points to 817.37, the American Stock Exchange composite index gained 2.33 points to 808.18 and the Wilshire 5000 Index tumbled 20.33 points to 7,752.06.

Big Board volume reached an estimated 1.46 billion shares, with Nasdaq volume at 1.32 billion shares.

Stocks came under pressure from the opening as concerns over a possible war with Iraq, terrorism fears and earnings jitters took a toll. Many investors took to the sidelines ahead of Friday's report by U.N. arms inspectors to the Security Council.

Analysts said investors remained focused on the updated account from U.N. inspectors on what they've found in Iraq, hoping that it will put an end to disagreements in the Security Council. But increasingly, such hopes seem futile, with the U.S. adamant that the time to act is now and the French convinced that inspectors must have more time.

Experts said a revelation that Iraq has developed a missile that exceeds range limits set by the United Nations helps the U.S. case, however, and it is fueling speculation that the inspectors will conclude Iraq is in material breach of U.N. obligations.

Worries over a new terrorist threat within the United States continue to unnerve traders. Military vehicles circled Washington and there were fighter aircraft patrols over the capital and New York. Officials raised the national threat level last week due to increased "chatter" intercepted by intelligence agencies.

North Korea also remained a concern after CIA Director George Tenet said it has missiles that can strike the U.S. West Coast.

On the economic front, the Commerce Department said U.S. retail sales dropped 0.9 percent in January, but excluding automobiles, sales posted their biggest gain since September 2000, jumping 1.3 percent. Economists on Wall Street were expecting retail sales to fall by 0.6 percent during the month.

The Labor Department said new claims for state unemployment benefits sank by 18,000 to 377,000 — the lowest in a month.

New claims for unemployment benefits have stayed below the 400,000 level for the past six weeks, suggesting the weakness in the job market might be abating.

Economists on Wall Street were expecting first-time claims to decline by 1,000 during the week.

The Labor Department also reported the price of goods imported into the United States posted their largest rise in nine months during January, jumping 1.5 percent due in part to a surge in oil prices. Economists had expected a rise of 0.8 percent.

U.S. Treasury prices inched higher. The 10-year bond rose 14/32 to 99 31/32. Its yield, which moves in the opposite direction of its price, slid to 3.88 percent from 3.93 percent late Wednesday.

European stock prices fell in light trading in London, Paris and Frankfurt as investors opted to await the U.N. report on Iraq.

The London International Stock Exchange's blue-chip FTSE-100 index lost 5.30 points, or 0.15 percent, to 3,610.80. The German DAX index fell 15.98 points, or 0.62 percent, to 2,555.27 and the French CAC-40 index slid 11.97 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,758.65.

In Asia, prices eased on the Tokyo Stock Exchange for the first time in three sessions, pressured by weakness in export issues. The blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average, which jumped 179.24 points Wednesday, slid 64.51 points, or 0.7 percent, to 8,599.66.

Prices ended sharply lower on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index, which rose 119.99 points in the previous session, fell 141.47 points, or 1.5 percent, to 9,173.43.

Prices also ended lower in moderate trading on the South Korean Stock Exchange. The Korean Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, which rose 7.31 points during the previous session, gave back 7.62 points, or 1.3 percent, to 575.67.

Prices also ended lower on the Taiwan Stock Exchange. The key Weighted Index, which added 5.89 points during its previous session, dropped 116.91 points, or 2.5 percent, to 4,507.96 — its lowest level in six weeks.

Prices ended also lower in fairly busy post-holiday trading on the Singapore Stock Exchange. The key Straits Times Index, which rose 2.68 points on Tuesday, fell 27.64 points, or 2.1 percent, to 1,268.33. Markets in Singapore were closed Wednesday for a national holiday.

And prices fell on the Australian Stock Exchange. The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index, which rose 7.10 points during the previous session, sank 46.60 points, 1.6 points, to 2,820.50 — its lowest level since November 1999.

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