- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street ended a listless session with stocks nearly flat yesterday as rising oil prices and inflation fears — and a dose of indecision — kept most investors on the sidelines.

A new batch of data showed that the economy’s rapid growth might be cooling a little, giving a few risk-tolerant investors an impetus to return to buying. But with oil prices still trading at near-record highs, many investors were dogged by concerns over how quickly and how high the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates to combat inflation.

The tentative mood kept stocks fluctuating in a narrow trading band, and volume was very light.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.07, or nearly flat, to 9,937.64.

Broader stock indicators barely moved. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gained 0.51, or nearly flat, to 1,089.19, and the Nasdaq Composite Index was down 1.58, or 0.1 percent, at 1,896.59.

The labor market, another key factor in any Fed decision on interest rates, remained somewhat strong even as jobless claims climbed. Initial jobless claims rose by 12,000 to 345,000 for the week ending May 15. While economists had forecast 326,000 first-time unemployment filings for the week, the higher number was still seen as a positive for a labor market that had suffered heavily in 2003.

Investors concerned with an overheating economy were mollified as the Conference Board issued a lower-than-expected increase in its Index of Leading Economic Indicators. The index, which predicts the strength of the economy up to six months ahead, rose 0.1 percent in April. Economists had been expecting a 0.2 percent rise.

In the end, however, the various readings and opinions will only keep stocks in a broad range until the Fed acts and the effect on inflation can be seen.

A new merger in networking led tech shares slightly higher.

Network company Tellabs Inc. announced it would acquire Advanced Fibre Communications Inc. for $1.9 billion in cash and stock.

Tellabs was down $1.24 at $7.95, while AFC gained $2.13 to $18.96.

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