- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks enjoyed a late-day rally yesterday, finishing higher despite a new record price for oil and gloomy third-quarter outlooks from several companies. Volume was relatively light as investors awaited the government’s jobs-creation report at the end of the week.

With rising energy costs threatening to dent consumer spending and corporate profits in the period ahead, oil and jobs have competed for the attention of traders on Wall Street. Many were looking ahead to the Labor Department’s September employment report, expected tomorrow. If the number of new jobs created misses expectations, it could be troublesome for stocks, particularly retailers.

Analysts are also watching for positive signs in third-quarter earnings reports, following a series of profit warnings.

“What you would hope now is that we’ll see some upside surprises,” said Janna Sampson, co-manager of the AmSouth Select Equity Fund and director of portfolio management at Oakbrook Investments. “That could buoy the market and help us take off. Until we get numbers out of those companies that haven’t warned, I think we’re somewhat directionless. There’s just nothing fundamental to drive the market until then.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 62.24, or 0.6 percent, to 10,239.92, making much of the gain in the final hour of trading.

The broader indexes also closed higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index added 7.57, or 0.7 percent, to 1,142.05. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 15.53, or 0.8 percent, to 1,971.03.

Light, sweet crude for November delivery settled 93 cents higher at $52.02, as traders examined weekly U.S. inventory numbers. Crude inventories for the first week of October were up 1.1 million barrels and gasoline stocks were also higher, but a 2.1 million barrel decline in distillate fuels, which includes heating oil and jet fuel, suggests consumer spending may come under some pressure this winter.

With third-quarter earnings season just starting, a number of large companies are preparing to issue results, including Costco Wholesale Corp., Marriott International and Alcoa Inc. today, and General Electric Co. tomorrow.

“GE’s breadth and industrial base will tell a lot about the condition of the economy,” said Ned Riley, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors. “Those comments will be watched with quite a bit of interest, simply because of their size and how it reflects the pulse of the consumer on the industrial side.”

Further raising concern about a potential slowdown in consumer spending, Big Lots Inc. blamed soft sales in September on the difficult economic environment. The nation’s largest closeout retailer adjusted its earnings and sales forecasts to reflect what it sees as a broad-based trend. Big Lots sank 4.6 percent, or 59 cents, to $12.15.

Also among companies offering bleaker outlooks, stock dealer Knight Trading Group Inc. dipped 20 cents to $9.39 after saying it expects an operating loss for the third quarter because of “persistent lackluster market conditions.”

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