- The Washington Times - Friday, March 5, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Disappointing job growth figures left stocks mixed after a volatile session yesterday, with investors guessing whether the underlying economy was strong enough to warrant current share prices. But perhaps the biggest news of the day was Martha Stewart.

After the founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. was found guilty, the company’s stock plunged $3.17, or 23 percent, to close at $10.86, the biggest percentage loser on the New York Stock Exchange for the session. Shares had skyrocketed $2.24, or 16 percent, at $16.27 in the hour before Stewart’s guilty verdict was announced. Trading was halted for a half hour afterward.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 7.55, or 0.1 percent, to 10,595.55.

Broader stock indicators were narrowly mixed. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gained 1.99, or 0.2 percent, at 1,156.87, and the Nasdaq Composite Index was down 7.48, or 0.4 percent, at 2,047.63.

Despite the day’s volatility, the markets ended the week with small gains, continuing a lackluster trend that has stalled Wall Street’s 11-month rally. For the week, the Dow gained 0.1 percent, the S&P; 500 rose 1.0 percent and the Nasdaq was up 0.9 percent. It was the second straight week of gains for the S&P;, while the Dow and Nasdaq reversed last week’s downward trend.

The session began after the Labor Department reported that the economy added a scant 21,000 jobs for February, far short of the 125,000 economists expected. In addition, the January figure was revised from 112,000 to 97,000, and the unemployment rate remained stalled at 5.6 percent in February.

Investors had been focused on the jobs report all week, hoping it would show signs of a stronger economic recovery. The immediate response was impressive — the Dow plunged more than 60 points in the first minutes of trading. But a second look at the overall economy prompted buying, particularly in defensive sectors such as finance and healthcare, and sent the major indexes seesawing in a broad range throughout the morning.

“I think you have investors taking heart that the jobs figures means that the Federal Reserve will leave interest rates intact for longer,” said Jack Caffrey, equities strategist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank. “People are more inclined to seize on that theory than on the lack of jobs in the economy.”

Dow component Intel Corp. cut its first-quarter sales forecast late Thursday, blaming a seasonal sales slump and its transition to new products. The stock dropped 70 cents to $28.95. With the technology sector having led much of the 2003 rally, the reduced outlook from this bellwether doesn’t bode well for a sustained market rally any time soon, said Bill Groenveld, head trader at vFinance Investments.

“We need another sector to take hold of this market or we’ll continue to drop to the wayside,” Mr. Groenveld said. “But nothing’s poking its head out yet, so you get everybody moving into defensive positions. At least they’re staying in the market and willing to ride it out.”

Sun Microsystems Inc. lost 36 cents to $4.80 after Standard & Poor’s cut the company’s bond rating to junk status.

McDonald’s Corp., which reported a systemwide sales jump of 22.6 percent in February, was up $1.01 at $29.85.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Boston Scientific’s new drug-eluting coronary stent system, but the company’s shares lost 59 cents to $43.53.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 9-5 ratio on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.36 billion shares, compared to 1.27 billion on Thursday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 1.16, or 0.2 percent, to 599.54.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 1.2 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 finished 0.3 percent lower, France’s CAC-40 lost 0.4 percent for the session and Germany’s DAX index closed down 0.2 percent.

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