- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Blue-chip stocks got a boost yesterday as OPEC signaled that it would raise output to help curb surging oil prices, offering investors some relief from persistent worries about inflation. But the overall market was mixed while Wall Street awaited May employment numbers from the Labor Department and Intel Corp.’s mid-quarter forecast.

Trading was light and uneventful, with few investors making big moves ahead of data that could give them clues about the direction of the economy and corporate profits.

“Everyone seems pretty complacent about the market,” said David Hegarty, head trader at Commerzbank Securities. “They’re not seeing a dire need to do anything either way, to buy or to sell. It’s not exciting … and that’s fine. I think the market is pretty fairly valued right now.”

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 60.32, or 0.6 percent, at 10,262.97.

The broader gauges were narrowly mixed. The Nasdaq Composite Index wilted 1.79, or 0.1 percent, to 1,988.98. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 3.79, or 0.3 percent, to finish at 1,124.99.

Stocks have wobbled lately amid soaring oil prices, which reached a 21-year high Tuesday after a weekend terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia. A possible remedy was in sight yesterday, however, when the president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said the 11 members of the group must assess their ability to produce more in an effort to calm the markets.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading crude exporter, already has boosted its production, and the United Arab Emirates announced yesterday that it plans to pump more oil. Kuwait also has said that it could raise output. OPEC oil ministers were to discuss the matter today.

“The fact that more and more OPEC members are saying they’re willing to join in and up production is certainly a positive for the market,” said Peter Cardillo, chief strategist at S.W. Bach & Co. “I think the feeling is … barring any unforeseen geopolitical problems, the price of oil is going to head lower.”

While the prospect of lower fuel prices was good news for inflation-wary investors, buyers seemed to lack conviction yesterday, and volume remained light. Some market participants may be reluctant to make big commitments ahead of the government’s May employment report, expected tomorrow.

Many chip companies are preparing mid-quarter updates this week, including industry bellwether Intel, which will release its forecast today. Investors have not been too impressed with the reports so far, however, and weakness in the semiconductor sector weighed on the tech-heavy Nasdaq.

Fairchild Semiconductor International Inc. sank $1.37, or 7 percent, to $18.13, after reiterating its previous forecast yesterday. Altera Corp. lost 66 cents to $22.17 after saying that it expects second-quarter revenue to come in near the high end of its expectations.

Two Dow components were downgraded by brokerage firms yesterday. McDonald’s Corp. lost 4 cents to $26.43 after Prudential Investments lowered its rating from “overweight” to “neutral.” Home Depot Inc. fell 9 cents to $35.67 after Bank of America downgraded it to “neutral.”

General Motors Corp. closed up 36 cents at $45.38 after the world’s biggest automaker reported a 6.8 percent rise in sales for May. DaimlerChrysler AG, which reported higher sales for its Chrysler unit, gained 32 cents to $44.59.

The only major automaker to decline was Ford Motor Co., which sagged 15 cents to $14.89 after reporting sales that were in line with expectations.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners more than 3 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated volume came to 1.55 billion shares, compared with 1.54 billion traded Tuesday.

The Russell 2000 Index, which tracks smaller-company stocks, closed up 1.07, or 0.2 percent, at 573.56.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average finished 0.5 percent lower. In Europe, France’s CAC-40 and Germany’s DAX index each added 0.6 percent, while Britain’s FTSE 100 was unchanged.

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