- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) — The Dow Jones Industrial Average pulled back modestly, but most stocks finished higher yesterday, extending a year-end rally that has propelled major market indexes to the highest levels since early 2002.

The Dow fell 24.96, or 0.2 percent, to 10,425.04, trimming the year’s gain to 25 percent. On Monday, the barometer of 30 blue-chip companies gained 125 points for its highest finish since March 2002.

Broader-market measures turned higher during the final half-hour after trading lower most of the day.

The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 3.40, or 0.2 percent, to close at 2,009.88, stretching this year’s gain to 50.5 percent. The index rose 33 points on Monday to close above 2,000 for the first time since Jan. 15, 2002. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.16, or 0.01 percent, to 1,109.64, up 26.1 percent for 2003.

Trading was light, with the vacation-thinned ranks of investors finding little news to steer the market other than two mildly discouraging reports on the economic front.

“The year is over and we’re waiting for something else to move us,” said Stuart Schweitzer, Global Markets Strategist for JPMorgan Fleming Asset Management, suggesting that investors may remain hesitant until late next week, when the government reports on December employment.

While nearly every report in recent months points to a continuing economic recovery in the new year, disappointing job growth has generated worries that the rebound may run out of steam.

Notably, the Conference Board reported yesterday that its Consumer Confidence Index slipped in December amid persistent anxiety about the job market. After surging in November to its highest level in more than a year, a pullback in the index had been expected. But the numbers released yesterday were below expectations.

In a separate report yesterday, the National Association of Realtors reported sales of previously owned homes declined by 4.6 percent in November. Still, the level of overall sales was strong enough to be the fifth-best month on record, a sign that the housing market remains in good shape.

Economically sensitive issues led the Dow’s decline: United Technologies Corp. fell 94 cents at $94.60.

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