- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) Stocks finished modestly higher yesterday, boosted by late-day bargain hunting after the Dow Jones Industrial Average pushed close to a five-year low. The gains came despite market wariness about a U.N. deadlock over a war with Iraq.
The Dow fell 107 points, led by a brokerage downgrade of oil stocks, before rebounding. Analysts, however, downplayed the turnaround, noting that volume was light and the number of declining issues outpaced advancers.
"A lot of the technicals have been talking about the market being oversold," said Mike Weiner, managing director of equities at Banc One Investment Advisors. "When you start to see things like that, you may see a day or two of rallies."
The Dow rose 28.01, or 0.4 percent, to close at 7,552.07, after a two-day loss of 215 points. The Dow is now 265 points above its five-year closing low of 7,286.27, reached on Oct. 9.
The broader market also finished higher. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 7.77, or 0.6 percent, to 1,279.24. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 3.46, or 0.4 percent, to 804.19.
Wall Street has seen choppy trading in recent weeks as investors make short-term bets on whether or when there will be a war with Iraq. Until there is some resolution, businesses will refrain from the capital spending sorely needed to revive the economy, they said.
"The market can't go down every day and in every way," said Larry Wachtel, market analyst at Prudential Securities. "From time to time, you have these flurries. But by and large, it doesn't follow through."
Britain set out yesterday a list of conditions for Iraq's disarmament, hoping to break an impasse at the United Nations. The United States and Britain have been trying to win U.N. approval for giving Iraq a March 17 deadline to disarm or face war, though they face stiff resistance.
"The best thing that can happen for this market is to set a deadline for war or peace … so we can turn to concerns that are more economically oriented," said Scott Wren, equity strategist for A.G. Edwards & Sons.
Mixed news on the nation's trade deficit, meanwhile, did little to inspire investors.
The Commerce Department reported yesterday that the trade gap narrowed 8.4 percent in January to $41.1 billion from the deficit of $44.9 billion in December. Even with the improvement, however, January's trade gap marked the second-biggest monthly deficit on record.

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