- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

NEW YORK, Feb. 28 (UPI) — Stock prices on the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq Stock Market ended higher Friday, lifted by some better-than-expected readings on the economy.

The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average gained 6.09 points, or 0.08 percent, to 7,891.08, having risen 78.01 points Thursday. Since falling back below the 8,000 mark a month ago, the Dow has been stuck in a narrow trading range, as investors await a possible U.S.-led war in Iraq.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index rose 13.58 points, or 1.03 percent, to 1,337.52, after increasing by 20.26 points in the previous session.

The broader New York Stock Exchange composite index gained 22.54 points to 4,716.07, the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 3.87 points to 841.15, the American Stock Exchange composite index increased by 2.43 points to 830.63, and the Wilshire 5000 Index rose by 32.88 points to 7,972.60.

Big Board volume reached an estimated 1.31 billion shares, while Nasdaq volume was around 1.33 billion shares.

Stocks pushed higher from the opening bell as investors reacted to a stronger-than-expected report on fourth-quarter U.S. economic growth. The Commerce Department said the nation's gross domestic product rose at a 1.4 percent annual rate in the quarter, revising an initial report of an increase of 0.7 percent by even more than expected. Economists had expected a revision to a 1 percent gain. The pace still was down from the 4 percent growth posted in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, consumers' attitudes about the economy softened at the end of February, according to a University of Michigan. The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index at the end of the month was said to have fallen to 79.9 from the 82.4 reported in January, according to those who'd seen the report, which is released only to subscribers.

But while the February final sentiment reading was lower than the previous month, it was little changed from the 79.2 that had been reported in the preliminary February survey released two weeks ago. The drop in the sentiment index was also a bit better than the 79.2 expected by economists.

The Michigan sentiment report follows a bruising release from the Conference Board earlier in the week. That group said that its consumer confidence index fell to just under a 10-year low, plummeting from 78.8 to 64 in February.

The Conference Board laid the decline squarely at the feet of war worries and the soft jobs market, and economists said there's little reason for the malaise to lift until those uncertainties subside. The Conference Board's report was even more damaging because it is based on a much broader survey size relative to the University of Michigan survey, which canvasses households via the telephone.

The University of Michigan sentiment survey's components also weakened. Its current conditions index was said to have weakened to 95.4 as of the end of the month, from the 97.2 reported for January. But like the sentiment index, the final February current conditions index bested the 95.2 reading seen in the middle of the month.

Meanwhile, the expectations index, which describes consumers' attitudes on the near-term outlook for the economy, moved to 69.9, after 68.8 mid-month and 72.8 for January.

Separately, the Purchasing Management Association of Chicago said its index of area business activity fell to 54.9 in February on a seasonally adjusted basis from 56 in

January. December's reading was revised to 51.7. A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the manufacturing sector and a reading below 50 indicates a contraction. The Chicago survey is watched closely for clues to the index of the Institute for Supply Management, whose February survey will be released Monday.

In the latest developments on the geopolitical front, Iraq said it would destroy missiles deemed illegal under U.N. sanctions beginning Saturday. There's one possible catch: Iraq says it doesn't know how to get rid of the missiles and wants a technical mission to help discuss the details. The U.N. Security Council has been meeting in closed session to discuss the U.S.-back resolution saying Iraq has missed its last chance to disarm.

Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury prices rose. The 10-year bond gained 12/32 to 101 17/32. Its yield, which moves in the opposite direction of its price, fell to 3.69 percent from 3.74 percent late Thursday.

In Europe, stock prices ended higher in London, Frankfurt and Paris, lifted by the early gains on Wall Street. The London International Stock Exchange's blue-chip FTSE-100 index gained 85.70 points, or 2.40 percent, to 3,655.60. The German DAX index rose 33.83 points, or 1.35 percent, to 2,754.07 and the French CAC-40 index rose 38.27 points, or 1.41 percent, to 2,754.07.

In Asia, prices ended mixed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange as an early attempt to rally ran out of steam. The Nikkei Stock Average, which added 2.57 points during the previous session, added another 3.66 points to 8,363.04 — well below its best level of the session of 8,448.78.

Elsewhere in Asia, stocks ended slightly lower on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index, which rose 17.96 points in the previous session, eased 11.58 points, or 0.13 percent, to 9,122.66. Prices also ended lower on the South Korean Stock Exchange, pushed down by fears of a possible war in Iraq and the restarting of a nuclear reaction by North Korea. The Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, which lost 7.80 points during the previous session, lost another 7.03 points, or 1.2 percent, to 575.43.

Prices snapped their four-day losing streak on the Singapore Stock Exchange. The Straits Times Index, which lost 15.89 points during the previous session, rose 2.60 points to 1,273.85. Prices ended slightly higher on the Australian Stock Exchange, lifted by Thursday's gains on Wall Street. The All Ordinaries Index gained 3.70 points to 2,778.40. Meanwhile, markets in Taiwan were closed for the Peace Memorial Day holiday.

Trading will resume on Monday.

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