- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street experienced a mild rebound yesterday after three straight losing sessions, with investors sending stocks mostly higher despite a sharp rise in unemployment claims and mixed holiday retail sales. Only the Nasdaq Composite Index posted a small loss.

Although stocks fluctuated, Wall Street greeted the Labor Department’s weekly first-time jobless claims report with surprising calm. Jobless claims rose to 364,000 last week, up from 321,000 the previous week — the sharpest rise in nearly three years.

Whether yesterday’s gains can set a new direction for short-term trading remains to be seen, as the Labor Department today is expected to release its monthly job creation report, a key barometer of the labor market and the nation’s economic health. A lower-than-expected number following November’s lackluster job growth could send stocks lower.

And combined with another rise in oil prices and news this week that the Federal Reserve sees the potential for worsening inflation, and, in turn, higher interest rates, investors had reason to be nervous.

“No matter how you look at it, this market is facing a head wind,” said Hans Olsen, managing director and chief investment officer at Bingham Legg Advisers in Boston.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 25.05, or 0.24 percent, to 10,622.88.

Broader stock indicators were mixed. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was up 4.15, or 0.35 percent, at 1,187.89, and the Nasdaq fell 1.24, or 0.06 percent, to 2,090.00.

Today’s job report will go a long way in determining whether the three previous sessions’ losses will be a short correction or a longer-term trend. While some pullback was expected after the strong finish to 2004, the market was unnerved by the prospect of higher rates, and any attempts to resume Wall Street’s postelection rally have met with strong resistance.

“I think investors are definitely waiting to see what the jobs report looks like, and then on Monday we’re already into earnings season,” said Jeff Kleintop, chief investment strategist for PNC Financial Services Group in Philadelphia. “There’s a lot of wait-and-see going on with regards to jobs, earnings, the dollar, oil prices — you name it.”

Crude oil futures rose sharply, surging past the $45-per-barrel mark, one day after the Energy Department reported strong inventories of distillate fuels but a decline in crude reserves. A barrel of light crude was quoted at $45.56, up $2.17, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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