- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

NEW YORK, Jan. 8 (UPI) — Stock prices on the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq Stock Market ended sharply lower in trading Wednesday as investors digested a fresh barrage of disappointing corporate news.

The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average, which lost 32.98 points Tuesday, dropped 145.28 points Wednesday to close at 8,595.31. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index, which rose 10.25 points in the previous session, fell 30.50 points to close at 1,401.07.

The broader New York Stock Exchange composite index dropped 5.70 points to close at 489.48 while the Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 13.00 to close at 909.93.

The American Stock Exchange composite index dropped 3.60 points to close at 825.13 while the Wilshire 5000 Index fell 117.67 points to close at 8,596.03.

On the Big Board 1.77 billion shares where traded, with 1.42 billion shares traded on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange.

Analysts said stocks fell from the opening bell as investors reacted to an earnings warning from personal computer maker Gateway Inc., which raised concerns over corporate results in the technology sector and a disappointing report from Alcoa Inc.

Alcoa, the world's largest aluminum producer, said it plans to lay off 8,000 employees and divest certain businesses that have experienced negligible growth in sectors such as alumina and chemicals, packaging, building and construction, automotive and general industrial and distribution.

The company, which is a component of the Dow Jones industrial average and is viewed as an economic bellwether because aluminum is so widely used, also reported a fourth-quarter net loss of $223 million, or 27 cents a share, compared with a net loss of $142 million, or 17 cents a share during the same period a year earlier.

Sales declined to $5.06 billion from $5.10 billion a year ago.

Alcoa said its results were negatively affected by significantly lower realized prices for primary aluminum and alumina, and lingering weaknesses in key end markets.

Excluding one-time charges, income from continuing operations was $133 million, or 16 cents a share in the quarter.

Analysts on Wall Street were expecting the company to post a net income excluding charges of 25 cents a share, according to Thomson First Call.

After Tuesday's close, Gateway warned of a steeper quarterly loss than expected, blaming slack holiday spending and sales promotions that hurt margins. The company said it expected fourth-quarter revenue to be almost 12 percent below its prior "best-case" forecast.

Intel Corp., the world's largest chip maker, added to concerns by seeing little improvement in technology spending in the next six months but hoping demand from new markets like China will drive an improvement in the second half.

Analysts noted the market was also pressured after brokers at UBS Warburg downgraded its rating on Dow industrials component JP Morgan Chase to a hold from a buy.

"We believe the stock now discounts a healthier economy and improved market conditions for 2003 … However, with the near-term outlook for investment banking activity remaining subdued, we remain cautious about upside potential to our 2003 earnings estimate," UBS told clients.

UBS also lowered their ratings on regional bell operating companies, saying Baby Bell fundamentals remain weak "and do not justify current price levels."

Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury prices eased. The 10-year bond dropped 7/32 to 99 27/32. Its yield, which moves in the opposite direction of its price, increased to 4.02 percent from 4.01 percent late Tuesday.

In Europe, stock prices ended lower in moderate trading in London, Frankfurt, Germany, and Paris.

The London International Stock Exchange's blue-chip FTSE-100 index lost 37.7 points, or 1 percent, to 3,919.7. The German DAX index fell 77.72 points, or 2.5 percent, to 3,035.05 and the French CAC-40 index fell 66.60 points, or 2.1 percent, to 3,094.09.

Analysts said European markets dropped, pressured by weakness in retail, oil and technology issues.

Oil stocks ended lower after an official from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said representatives will meet Sunday in Vienna to discuss a proposed output rise. Technology issues fell following Gateway's sales warning.

In Asia, prices ended lower on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, pressured by weakness in the banking sector. The blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average, which slipped 56.83 points Tuesday, lost another 138.70 points, or 1.6 percent, to 8,517.80.

Analysts said stocks ended lower as growing concerns over corporate unwinding of cross-shareholdings added to the market gloom following a weak showing Tuesday on Wall Street.

After opening slightly lower, the Nikkei 225 extended its fall due in part to renewed selling of bank stocks. Lingering worries over the geopolitical situation briefly pushed the Nikkei 225 below 8,500 level for the first time since late December.

Elsewhere in Asia, prices on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange ended slightly higher. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index, which eased 13.56 points during the previous session, rose 35.81 points, or 0.37 percent, to 9,688.21.

Analysts said stocks ended off their best levels as new policy initiatives to reduce the territory's budget deficit laid out by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa failed to inspire investors, who were hoping for economic stimulus measures.

Experts said there was disappointment that Tung did not produce measures to stimulate the economy in his annual policy address. He focused instead on tackling the ballooning budget deficit, pledging to take a 10 percent pay cut and look at new taxes as expected.

Stocks ended little changed on the South Korean Stock Exchange. The Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, which lost 14.51 points during the previous session, slipped 0.48 points to 651.72.

Analysts said the market found some support on hopes for a peaceful resolution over North Korea's nuclear threat after the United States said it was willing to talk to North Korea on how it meets its obligations to the international community on its nuclear program.

Prices ended higher on the Taiwan Stock Exchange. The key Weighted Index, which rose 11.22 points during the previous session, jumped 135.85 points, or 2.9 percent, to 4,836.93 — its highest close since late August.

Meanwhile, Singapore stocks ended higher. The key Straits Times Index, which fell 12.88 points during the previous session, rose 13.58 points, or 1 percent, to 1,332.32.

Elsewhere, prices ended little changed in lackluster trading on the Australian Stock Exchange. The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index, which dipped 1.60 points during the previous session, slipped 0.80 point to 3,042.40.

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