- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

NEW YORK, March 7 (UPI) — Stock prices on the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq Stock Market are climbing higher, on unconfirmed reports that Osama bin Laden's sons have been captured in Pakistan while the U.N. council meeting regarding Iraq continues.

The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average is up 39.64 points, or 0.54 percent, at 7,713.63, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index is up 1.68 points, or 0.13 percent, at 1,304.57.

The broader New York Stock Exchange composite index is up 12.84 points at 4,638.86, the Standard & Poor's 500 index is 5.40 points higher at 827.50, while the American Stock Exchange composite index is down 2.24 points at 824.78, and the Wilshire 5000 Index is up 47.94 points at 7,847.59.

Volume is around 791.83 million on the Big Board and 857.23 million on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange.

Two sons of Osama bin Laden were among several al Qaida suspects arrested recently in Afghanistan, a senior Pakistani official told United Press International Friday. The report has not, however, been confirmed by U.S. government officials.

Both were injured in the operation launched near the southern Pakistani province of Balochistan, a provincial minister told Pakistan's Geo Television. Balochistan borders Afghanistan's Kandahar province where the disbanded Taliban movement had its headquarters.

Provincial Interior Minister Sanaullah Zehri said some al Qaida operatives were also killed in the operation conducted by Afghan forces with the help of U.S. troops. Pakistani troops helped the operation by blocking the border and preventing al Qaida fighters from escaping to the border tribal areas of Pakistan where a number of al Qaida leaders, including bin Laden, are believed to be hiding. Bin Laden is believed to be the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Meanwhile, the U.N. council meeting on Iraq continues during market hours. The United Nation's senior weapons inspectors reported to the Security Council Friday that they had found no indication Iraq has stockpiles of biological weapons, or mobile biological units, but questions still remained.

They also said there was no indication of resumed efforts to create nuclear weapons.

U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said that after a period of not cooperating, there had been "an acceleration of initiative on the Iraq side" since the end of January.

But he said there continued to be a scarcity of information about Iraq's past programs given to the inspectors. Blix has prepared a 167-page compilation of outstanding issues on which he is looking for answers.

Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said his inspectors have found "no evidence or plausible indication of nuclear activity in Iraq."

Political events have led investors to shrug off some worrisome economic data. Earlier in the day, the Department of Labor reported that the national unemployment rate increased to 5.8 percent last month as the country moved closer to war against Iraq and dealt with a sluggish economy.

Non-farm payrolls fell by 308,000 in February, after an increase of 185,000 in January.

"While today's news was unexpected and certainly disappointing, a number of factors are thought to be responsible for the unexpected decline in payroll employment," U.S. Secretary of labor Elaine L. Chao said.

Among the factors that contributed to the increase in the unemployment rate were several winter storms that shut down much of the mid-Atlantic and East Coast last month and the call up of 150,000 military reserves.

According to Kathleen Utgoff, who heads the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the February report shows a widespread decline of jobs, particularly in manufacturing, construction, the service sector, the transportation industry, and in retail-trade.

Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury prices are up. The 10-year bond is up 4/32 to 101 30/32. Its yield, which moves in the opposite direction of its price, is down to 3.64 percent from 3.66 percent late Thursday.

In Europe, stock prices are mixed in the three major European bourses. The London International Stock Exchange's blue-chip FTSE-100 index is down 63.80 points to 3,491.60. The German DAX index is up 18.66 points, or 0.77 percent, to 2,456.17 while the French CAC-40 index is down 59.62 points, or 2.26 percent, at 2,574.91.

Tokyo's Nikkei average closed at a 20-year low Friday after U.S. President George W. Bush said that refusing to use force to disarm Iraq posed an unacceptable risk.

The rest of the Asian stock markets did not fare better, as investors took the comment as a further sign military action is near, and many preferred to square their positions ahead of the U.N. Security Council meeting later Friday. The meeting will study a new report on progress made by U.N. inspectors in seeking out weapons in Iraq.

The Nikkei average fell 2.69 percent to 8,144.12, the lowest close since March 1983. But fear over Iraq was not the only negative weight on the market. A wire report of an investigation into alleged stock manipulation by Nikko Salomon Smith Barney and a new political scandal added further pressures.

The overall Korea Composite Stock Price Index fell 1.7 percent to 546.02, hitting a 16-month closing low. But buying by the National Pension Fund cushioned the fall.

In Taiwan, the main index closed down 1.06 percent at 4350.59, its lowest level in nearly 5 months. In Hong Kong, the benchmark Hang Seng Index lost 0.62 percent at 8,907.10 points.

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