- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 24, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) Stocks closed mixed in quiet pre-holiday trading yesterday as mildly encouraging economic news helped offset retailers' reports of disappointing sales.
Citigroup's announcement of a huge earnings charge also held back the market.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 18.03, or 0.2 percent, at 8,493.29. That followed a gain of nearly 146 points on Friday.
The broader market rose. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 18.64, or 1.4 percent, to close at 1,381.69. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 1.62, or 0.2 percent, to 897.38. The Russell 2000 index, a barometer of smaller-company stocks, rose 2.85, or 0.7 percent, to 389.73.
Analysts cautioned against reading too much into the market's performance, noting that the midweek Christmas holiday was leading many traders and investors to take a few days' vacation.
"Behind all this is very, very little volume," said Chris Wolfe, chief equity strategist with JP Morgan Private Bank. "Today and tomorrow probably aren't indicative of a lot of position-taking by institutions or others."
Mr. Wolfe and other analysts said those still in the market were likely troubled by announcements from several retailers yesterday that holiday sales were continuing to fall short of expectations.
"Retailers are getting slammed, and they're getting slammed for a reason," said Russ Koesterich, U.S. equity strategist at State Street Corp. in Boston.
Investors could find limited reassurance in some mildly upbeat news about consumer behavior, but analysts said the market might well continue to drift without more upbeat corporate news.
The Commerce Department reported that consumers increased their spending by 0.5 percent in November, the biggest advance in four months. The report, which also noted a rise in personal income, bolstered optimism that consumers would continue spending enough to keep the economic recovery going.
Also yesterday, the University of Michigan reported consumer confidence edged up in December, matching expectations, Dow Jones news wires said.
Citigroup fell after the company said its quarterly earnings would be reduced by $1.5 billion to pay for the costs of settling charges of biased stock research, and to cover eventual verdicts related to its dealings with Enron. The stock fell 46 cents to $37.68.
Federated Department Stores fell $1.08 to $27.84 after the company said its holiday season would fall short of its forecasts. Wal-Mart declined $1.20 to $49.59 after saying sales last week were at the low end of its expectations. J.C. Penney, which also reported lackluster sales growth, fell $1.49 to $22.33.
Volume totaled 1.37 billion shares on the New York Stock Exchange, down from 2.25 billion on Friday.

Volume on the floor of the Big Board came to 1.09 billion shares, down from 1.78 billion in the previous session.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.2 percent. In afternoon trading in Europe, France's CAC-40 rose 0.2 percent, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 1.2 percent and Germany's DAX index declined by 0.8 percent.

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