- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks closed slightly higher in lackluster pre-holiday trading yesterday, with a better-than-expected government report on oil inventories and good unemployment figures giving investors reasons to buy stocks.

Wall Street was generally encouraged as the latest Energy Department report on petroleum reserves showed flat demand and slight reserve increases in distillates such as heating oil. However, oil futures rose in afternoon trading, with a barrel of light crude quoted at $49.44, up 50 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

A drop in weekly unemployment claims, which fell to their lowest level in three months, eased investor concerns about the strength of the economy. According to the Labor Department, 323,000 first-time jobless claims were filed last week, down from 334,000 the week before and less than the 335,000 analysts had expected.

However, with the dollar still struggling against other currencies and a mix of economic data, the markets were sluggish, especially with the Thanksgiving holiday approaching.

“I don’t know if there’s anything really driving the market today,” said Scott Wren, equity strategist at A.G. Edwards & Sons. “The dollar’s lower, but so is oil. Volume’s a little better, so there’s probably still some optimism there.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 27.71, or 0.26 percent, to 10,520.31.

Broader stock indicators were modestly higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 4.82, or 0.41 percent, at 1,181.76, and the Nasdaq Composite Index gained 18.26, or 0.88 percent, to 2,102.54.

General Electric Co. fell 17 cents to $35.64 after it announced it would purchase water-treatment company Ionics Inc. for $1.1 billion, or $44 per share, plus the assumption of debt. Ionics surged $13.53, or 45.5 percent, to $43.28.

Biogen Idec Inc. and Elan Corp. announced that the Food and Drug Administration had approved their new drug for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. Biogen climbed $1.16 to $58.59, while Elan was down 3 cents at $27.27.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 5-to-2 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was up 4.97, or 0.8 percent, at 629.50.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 0.21 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 closed down 0.48 percent, France’s CAC-40 dropped 0.51 percent for the session, and Germany’s DAX index gained 0.25 percent in late trading.

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