- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks moved higher in choppy trading yesterday as investors focused on strong earnings news from Intel Corp. instead of a government report that high oil prices and lower exports had pushed the U.S. trade deficit to a record level.

Anxiety about Wall Street’s slow start for the year has made some investors wary of making big bets as a number of companies prepare to release quarterly earnings, and a mixed bag of reports and outlooks did little to build confidence. It made for a confusing market yesterday, as stocks meandered in and out of positive territory, but most analysts remained upbeat about the prospects for this year.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 61.56, or 0.58 percent, at 10,617.78, making most of its gains in the final hour.

The broader gauges also moved higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 4.71, or 0.40 percent, to 1,187.70. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 12.91, or 0.62 percent, to 2,092.53.

In Washington, the Commerce Department said the U.S. trade deficit soared to a new high of $60.3 billion in November, reflecting record levels for imports of everything from oil and consumer goods to farm products. The 7.7 percent rise from an imbalance of $56 billion in October beat the previous monthly record and caught economists by surprise: They had forecast a slight narrowing of the trade gap.

The news prompted weakness in the dollar, which dropped sharply against the euro and other world currencies after the deficit data was released.

The unexpected widening in the trade gap also led to a bounce in gold and, initially, oil prices, which were also moving on the government’s weekly report on fuel inventories. The Department of Energy found a 3 million barrel drop in crude supplies, a deeper decline than analysts had expected, but a 1.9 million barrel build in distillate fuels, which include heating oil. Light, sweet crude for February delivery added 69 cents to settle at $46.37 per barrel.

But analysts say what might matter more for investors is the next batch of earnings reports, which could set the tone for the rest of this year.

Chip maker Intel rose 62 cents to $23.16 after beating Wall Street earnings estimates by 2 cents a share and reporting stronger than expected revenue on strong holiday sales of computer and cell phone chips. It also issued an optimistic outlook for the first quarter.

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