- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street meandered to a modest gain yesterday as investors, faced with a muddled view of the economy, held off on any large bets before the government’s upcoming jobs report. Merger activity gave technology stocks a slightly stronger lift.

Investors were cheered as factory orders rose in April at the fastest rate in five months, and were further encouraged by a 2.9 percent rise in productivity in the first quarter, just shy of the 3.0 percent economists expected. In addition, retail sales in May were fairly strong despite a chilly spring.

Yet the Labor Department reported a larger-than-expected number of first-time jobless claims filed last week, and the department’s productivity data pointed to higher wage costs, which could spur inflation. With the Labor Department’s job creation report due today, trading volume was light as investors generally stayed on the sidelines.

“Are we in that perfect ‘Goldilocks’ kind of economy, or are the numbers here pointing to new problems?” said Jay Suskind, head trader at Ryan Beck & Co. “So in front of tomorrow’s employment numbers, the market lays an egg and we wait.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 3.62, or 0.03 percent, to 10,553.49. The Dow had posted modest losses for most of the session before moving higher at the close.

Broader stock indicators also gained ground. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 2.02, or 0.22 percent, at 1,204.29, and the Nasdaq Composite Index gained 9.94, or 0.48 percent, to 2,097.80.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was up 1.50, or 0.24 percent, at 625.24.

Oil prices dropped because of a surprising increase in the nation’s crude oil and gasoline stockpiles. A barrel of light crude settled at $53.63, down 97 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The bond market edged higher after Wednesday’s sharp rally, which sent Treasury yields to nearly yearlong lows. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 3.90 percent from 3.89 percent late Wednesday. The dollar lost ground against most major currencies, while gold prices rose.

Despite the economic concerns and the unusual activity in the bond market, analysts were encouraged that stocks did not sell off substantially after the gains of the past month.

“We’re seeing a little pause here, but we’re in the middle of a powerful uptrend, and traders should be looking at every dip in the market to find a new entry point,” said Ken Tower, chief market strategist for Schwab’s CyberTrader.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. gained 30 cents to $48.22 after reporting a 2.5 percent increase in sales at stores open at least a year, on par with Wall Street’s expectations. Costco Wholesale Corp., which surpassed forecasts, was up $1.06 at $46.62, while home-decor retailer Pier 1 Imports Inc. dropped 89 cents to $15.74 after missing sales estimates and warning that its second-quarter profits would be lower than expected.

Dow industrial Citigroup slipped a penny to $47.71 after the company announced it would buy the $6.6 billion credit card businesses of merger partners Federated Department Stores Inc. and May Department Stores Co. for a total $760 million. Federated rose $1.39 to $69.09, while May added 40 cents to $38.71.

In the technology sector, Sun Microsystems Inc. fell 11 cents to $3.79 after it said it would buy Storage Technology Corp. for $4.1 billion. The acquisition gives Sun, which makes computer servers, added storage services to offer its customers. StorageTek surged 16.4 percent, or $5.13, to $36.36.

Shopping.com soared 19.1 percent, or $3.33, to $20.77 after the online shopping comparison site announced it will be purchased by Internet auctioneer EBay Inc. for about $260 million in cash, or $21 per share. EBay was off 6 cents at $39.05 on the news.

Biogen Idec Inc. lost $1.70 to $38.07 after the drug manufacturer reported a fourth case of a rare brain disease in patients taking its Tysabri multiple sclerosis drug. Elan Corp., which produces the drug with Biogen, tumbled 14.3 percent, or $1.14, to $6.85.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by nearly 3-to-2 on the New York Stock Exchange, where preliminary consolidated volume came to 1.81 billion shares, compared with 1.83 billion traded on Wednesday.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 0.44 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 was down 0.12 percent, France’s CAC-40 climbed 0.13 percent for the session, and Germany’s DAX index rose 0.11 percent.

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