- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street finished mixed yesterday, nudging the Dow Jones Industrial Average higher for the fourth-straight session but moving cautiously as investors awaited new data to assess whether their hopes for an interest-rate cut are justified.

Investors seemed uncertain about where to take the market a day after the Federal Reserve seemed to open up the possibility of a reduction in short-term rates, pushing the Dow up 159 points Wednesday.

Investors remained optimistic about the statement but reined in their buying as they took note of climbing energy costs that made it look unlikely that inflationary pressures will ease enough to provoke a rate cut, and as market experts debated whether the Fed’s slight change in language truly suggested a shift in policy.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think it means a heck of a lot,” said Stephen Massocca, president of Pacific Growth Equities. “The market received it very, very well, but ultimately the Fed is news-dependent.”

Still, falling unemployment claims and strength in markets overseas kept stocks from sinking after this week’s surge. The Dow has had its best four-day point gain since May 2005.

The blue-chip index rose 13.62, or 0.11 percent, to 12,461.14. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 0.50, or 0.03 percent, to 1,434.54. The technology-dominated Nasdaq Composite Index declined 4.18, or 0.17 percent, to 2,451.74, pulled lower in large part by a profit warning by cell-phone maker Motorola Inc.

The Russell 2000 Index of smaller companies was up 0.58, or 0.07 percent, at 808.05.

“Surprisingly, the market’s holding onto yesterday’s gains,” said Peter Cardillo of Avalon Partners Inc. “It shows that technically the market has gained momentum.”

Oil prices climbed more than $2 to $61.69 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. U.S. retail gasoline prices have surged about 20 percent over the past two months as stockpiles decline ahead of the peak driving season.

Giving investors some relief, though, was the Labor Department’s report that the number of workers seeking unemployment benefits fell to 316,000 last week, the third-consecutive decline.

Bonds fell sharply after the jobs data, pushing up the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note to 4.59 percent from 4.54 percent late yesterday.

Technology companies came under pressure after Motorola warned that it will swing to a first-quarter loss because of declining sales. The cell-phone maker fell $1.24, or 6.6 percent, to $17.50, near a two-year low.

Palm Inc. fell $1.71, or 8.8 percent, to $17.74, as speculation diminished that the smart phone and hand-held device maker could be bought by Motorola.

KB Home, one of the nation’s largest home builders, said its first-quarter profit fell 84 percent, but the results came in ahead of lowered expectations. KB Home fell 54 cents to $47.25.

Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 1.49 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 was up 0.98 percent, Germany’s DAX was up 2.16 percent, and France’s CAC-40 was up 1.75 percent.

Barnes & Noble Inc. reported a rise in fiscal fourth-quarter results, but the figure missed expectations. Rival book, music and movie seller Borders Group Inc. said it swung to a fourth-quarter loss and announced plans to close nearly half its Waldenbooks stores.

Barnes & Noble fell $1.10, or 2.8 percent, to $37.90, and Borders fell 73 cents, or 3.4 percent, to $20.70.

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