- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street’s pre-election jitters left stocks with only a modest gain yesterday, even as crude oil futures fell near the $50-per-barrel mark. A mix of economic data added to the ambivalence.

A sharp drop in energy prices soothed the market, although the prospect of a tight election loomed. A barrel of light crude for December delivery closed at $50.13, down $1.63, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was the lowest closing price since Oct. 4, when futures settled at $49.91 per barrel.

“The oil picture certainly helps, but you still have a lot of people sitting on their hands,” said Brian Belski, market strategist at Piper Jaffray. “There’s not a lot of engagement overall, and there won’t be until we see if there’s a decisive winner on Wednesday. If there is, no matter who it is, we’ll probably go higher.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 26.92, or 0.3 percent, to 10,054.39. It was the fifth straight session in which the Dow posted gains — the first five-day run in positive territory since July 27 to Aug. 2.

Broader stock indicators closed narrowly higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 0.31, or 0.03 percent, at 1,130.51, and the Nasdaq Composite Index gained 4.88, or 0.2 percent, to 1,979.87.

Volume was lighter than usual as some investors sat out of the market before Election Day, and the major indexes moved in and out of positive territory in a narrow range for most of the session.

Investors welcomed a 0.6 percent rise in consumer spending, which came after a 0.1 percent drop in August. However, the Commerce Department also noted that personal incomes rose by only 0.1 percent, and that the savings rate fell to 0.2 percent from 0.7 percent.

With spending outstripping income by a wide margin, there were concerns that it’s only a matter of time before consumers have to cut back on spending, which accounts for two-thirds of the nation’s economic activity.

Also weighing on investors, the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index fell in October, coming in at 56.8, far lower than the 58.5 reading expected by Wall Street. The index was at 58.5 in September.

“The market is basically ignoring these economic numbers and just waiting to see what happens Wednesday morning, if anything,” said John Lynch, chief market analyst at Evergreen Investments. “The market, at this point, is simply looking for clarity. The market’s fundamentals are sound, but we’re preoccupied by the election.”

PeopleSoft Inc. surged $2.16, or 10.4 percent, to $22.93 as Oracle Corp. increased its bid for the rival software company from $21 to $24 per share, giving the company until Nov. 19 to decide on Oracle’s “best and final offer.” Oracle gained 9 cents to $12.75.

Industrial giant Tyco International Ltd. swung to a fourth-quarter profit, thanks to a double-digit rise in sales and lower one-time charges compared with last year. Although Tyco surpassed Wall Street profit forecasts by 2 cents per share, the company lowered its profit outlook. Tyco rose 55 cents to $31.70.

Martin Marietta Materials Inc. climbed $2.22 cents to $47.75 after the construction materials company posted a 19 percent increase in profits, beating analysts’ expectations by 7 cents per share.

Health benefits manager Humana Inc. saw its profits jump by more than a third, and improved its profit outlook. Humana was up $1.20 to $20.35.

Merck & Co. Inc. plunged $3.03 to $28.28 after a press report said the drug maker knew about health risks of Vioxx years before it pulled the arthritis drug from the market in late September. Vioxx was found to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

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