- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) Wall Street meandered and ultimately stalled yesterday, held back by profit-taking from last week's big rally and the absence of any good news to inspire buying.
The market's only gains came tentatively and late in the session, but analysts were encouraged. They said investors, while still cautious, have become confident enough to hold their positions rather than cash them out for fear the market's advance will falter.
The subdued session also marked the six-month anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 38.75, or 0.4 percent, at 10,611.24 yesterday after spending much of the day at a loss.
Broader market indicators were also weak. The Standard & Poor's 500 index advanced 3.95, or 0.3 percent, at 1,168.26, while the Nasdaq Composite Index slipped 0.18, virtually unchanged, to 1,929.49. The Russell 2000 index advanced 0.90 to 500.75.
"This is good. I'd feel very uncomfortable if we were seeing 1.5 percent or 2 percent up-days every day because that would mean we're getting euphoric again," said Rafael Tamargo, director of equity research at Wilmington Trust. "Grinding it out like this is kind of what we need to see. It shows that investors still have questions and are acting carefully."
Stocks enjoyed a big rally last week including a 7 percent surge on the Nasdaq and a 2 percent gain on the Dow after Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said recovery from the recession "is already well under way" and several economic reports supported his assessment.
However, the market's recent strength has made some investors uneasy. After two years of unsustainable rallies and tumbling stock prices, there are concerns that some issues have become too expensive given the modest projections for the future. Buyers want to hear more companies report improving results before committing too much to stocks.
First-quarter earnings reports due out next month could provide some of those answers. Wall Street also wants companies to say business is improving and that results due out later this year will be better.
"The mood is improving. But people have found you have to be prudent," said Jack Francis, managing director at UBS Warburg. "They don't want stock prices to go too high until they're sure that there's something underneath to support them."
Wall Street also paused to remember the September assault on the World Trade Center that shuttered Wall Street for nearly a week and prompted a massive sell-off. The Dow has climbed 28.9 percent from its post-attack lows, the Nasdaq is up 35.6 percent and the S&P; has advanced nearly 21 percent.
In trading yesterday, investors once again bought financial stocks one of the sectors that has received the biggest boost in recent days on hopes it will benefit from an improving economy. J.P. Morgan rose $1.56 to $36.30.
Earnings were also in focus. Retailer Williams-Sonoma dropped $2.64 to $46.40 after the upscale home-furnishings company missed its fourth-quarter earnings target and said first-quarter earnings would not be as strong as analysts expected.
Tech stocks were mixed. Qwest Communications fell 25 cents to $9.46 after the company said the Securities and Exchange Commission had opened an informal inquiry into its accounting practices.
Meanwhile, Ciena climbed $1.02, or 11 percent, to $10.29.
Advancing issues narrowly led decliners on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated volume came to 1.516 billion shares, compared with 1.79 billion shares Friday.


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