- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

NEW YORK, Feb. 19 (UPI) — Prices on the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq Stock Market were lower in lackluster trading at midday Wednesday, pressured by profit-taking after two sessions of strong gains.

The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average, which jumped 132.35 points Tuesday, was down 62.70 points, or 0.8 percent, to 7,978.40. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index, which gained 36.37 points in the previous session, was down 12.30 points, or 0.9 percent, to 1,334.24.

The broader New York Stock Exchange composite index was down 42.73 to 4,763.00, the Standard & Poor's 500 index was down 6.42 to 844.75, the American Stock Exchange composite index was down 1.56 points to 813.96 and the Wilshire 5000 Index was down 64.02 to 7,987.69.

Big Board volume declined to an estimated 516.20 million shares from 568.90 million shares changing hands during the same period Tuesday. Nasdaq volume fell to 506.90 million shares from 580.10 million shares changing hands during the previous session.

Analysts said stocks drifted lower on bouts of profit-taking after two strong sessions, as investors digested a strong January home-building report.

The Commerce Department said housing starts rose 0.2 percent in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.85 million units — its best pace since May 1986. Economists had expected housing starts to decline 3.3 percent to an annual rate of 1.765 million units.

The agency also reported building permit authorizations, an indicator of future construction, fell 5.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.781 million units from 1.887 million units. Economists had expected permits to slip to a 1.8 million unit rate.

Larry Wachtel, senior vice president at Prudential Securities, said: "Nothing dramatic has changed on the countdown to war, with the timing perhaps delayed slightly by diplomatic maneuvering. And on the business front, we still have a muddling through economy, but one that will produce decent profitability."

Analysts noted caution in the market ahead of a possible new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq.

On the corporate front, Wachovia Corp. announced a deal to buy Prudential Financial Inc.'s sales force of retail stockbrokers. The deal will give Wachovia more than 13,000 brokers, rivaling the 14,600 brokers at Merrill Lynch, the nation's largest brokerage firm.

U.S. Treasury prices pushed higher. The 10-year bond rose 16/32 to 99 28/32. Its yield, which moves in the opposite direction of its price, fell to 3.89 percent from 3.95 percent late Tuesday. The market was supported by war risks, analysts said.

In Europe, stock prices fell in moderate trading in London, Frankfurt and Paris, with weakness in telecommunications issues. The London International Stock Exchange's blue-chip FTSE-100 index lost 65.1 points, or 1.8 percent, to 3,664.4. The German DAX index dropped 95.70 points, or 3.5 percent, to 2,644.44 and the French CAC-40 index sank 79.44 points, or 2.7 percent, to 2,859.19.

In Asia, prices eased on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, pressured by weakness in bank issues. The blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average, which lost 78.92 points during the previous session, slipped 14.53 poits, or 0.2 percent, to 8,678.44

Elsewhere in Asia:

— Stocks gained slightly on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, lifted by strength in telecom issues. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index, which rose 13.37 points in the previous session, rose another 30.58 points, or 0.3 percent, to 9,427.63.

— Prices ended lower on the Taiwan Stock Exchange. The key Weighted Price Index of the Taiwan Stock Exchange, which dropped 99.77 points in the previous session, lost another 54.48 points, or 1.2 percent, to 4,550.83.

— Prices rose in fairly active trading on the Singapore Stock Exchange. The Straits Times Index, which fell 7.38 points in the previous session, rose 21.72 points, or 1.7 percent, to 1,315.53.

— Prices eased in moderate trading on the South Korean Stock Exchange. The Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, which rose 1.58 points in the previous session, slipped 2.62 points, or 0.4 percent, to 600.83.

— Prices gained on the Australian Stock Exchange. The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index, which fell 0.60 point in the previous session, gained 21.00 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,849.90.

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