- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) Investors vacillated between jitters about a war with Iraq and optimism from upbeat economic news for much of the day yesterday, sending the market's gauges higher in the final minutes of trading. The gains weren't enough to save most stocks from their third straight monthly declines.
Analysts remain dubious of Wall Street's ability to forge an upward path in the face of uncertainty about Iraq. And despite yesterday's advances, the major indexes ended the week lower, snapping a two-week winning stretch.
"I don't think there are any bits of good news sufficient enough to really drive the market higher on a sustained basis," said Richard A. Dickson, senior market strategist at Lowry's Research Reports in Palm Beach, Fla.
Rallies have been short-lived so far this year, often lasting a day or fizzling out midway through a session. Investors are expected to hold back until it's clearer whether and when there will be a war and what effect it will have on the U.S. economy.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average inched up 6.09, or 0.1 percent, to 7,891.08, having risen as much as 80.81 earlier. For the week, the Dow lost 1.6 percent.
The broader market also rose yesterday but posted weekly declines. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 13.58, or 1 percent, to 1,337.52. For the week, the Nasdaq fell 0.9 percent.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 3.87, or 0.5 percent, to 841.15, yesterday but had a weekly loss of 0.8 percent.
Most stocks ended the month with their third straight monthly declines as the Dow shed 2 percent and the S&P; fell 1.7 percent. But the Nasdaq gained 1.3 percent in February.
Wall Street was encouraged yesterday by news that the U.S. economy, as measured by gross domestic product, grew at a 1.4 percent rate in the fourth quarter, twice as fast as the government first estimated last month. Although the performance, reported by the Commerce Department, is still considered below par, it showed that the economic recovery didn't languish as much as previously thought.
Two other pieces of economic news were less positive.
The Purchasing Management Association of Chicago reported that its index of business activity fell to 54.9 in February on a seasonally adjusted basis from 56.0 in January. Still, a reading above 50 indicates growth.
The index is considered a harbinger of the Institute for Supply Management's national survey on manufacturing, due to be released Monday.
A third report showed softening of consumers' attitude but to a lesser degree than had been expected. The University of Michigan said its consumer sentiment index fell to 79.9 in February, down from 82.4 in January, but it was better than the 79.2 level economists expected.
Investors were also faced with new reasons to be concerned about Iraq, such as uncertainty about how much a war would cost, and that caused the market to fight hard for the gains it claimed. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said there are so many variables that estimating the cost is impossible. Analysts said investors are worried that a war would undermine an already-feeble economy.

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