- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks fell slightly but showed more signs of stability yesterday as investors sifted through new economic data and found little reason to resume last week’s heavy selling pace.

The stock indexes wavered in a narrow range, reacting little to comments from Chicago Fed President Michael Moskow that inflation remains stubborn and that interest-rate increases might be needed to contain costs. The stock market was similarly unimpressed by data showing a weaker jobs picture and sluggishness in some areas of the country.

Investors in the past week have harbored concerns about a global economic slowdown and have been looking at data to try to determine whether the U.S. economy is still capable of pulling off a soft landing.

In late trading, stocks turned lower after drifting higher for most of the afternoon, unable to build on the rally of a day earlier. Tuesday’s advance was strong — the Dow Jones Industrial Average made up about 26 percent of the losses suffered in the previous week — but it left investors wondering whether renewed volatility would subside long enough to allow Wall Street to build some consensus about where stocks were headed.

Overall, though, yesterday’s trading was reassuring. Volume levels were more typical of everyday trading than the big numbers Wall Street posted for much of the past week.

“The market is stabilizing after the storm of last week. That’s real progress. It’s extremely welcome. It allows us to restore investor confidence,” said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer of Johnson Illington Advisors.

The Dow fell 15.14, or 0.12 percent, to 12,192.45, after trading within a 78-point range, a much narrower band than in recent sessions.

Broader stock indicators also edged lower. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 3.44, or 0.25 percent, to 1,391.97, and the Nasdaq Composite Index declined 10.50, or 0.44 percent, to 2,374.64. The Russell 2000 Index of smaller companies fell 2.98, or 0.38 percent, to 775.90.

Bonds got a lift from the Federal Reserve survey, which said most parts of the country saw modest economic growth in the past month, but many areas saw slowing. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 4.50 percent from 4.53 percent late Tuesday.

The dollar was mixed against other currencies, while gold rose.

Light, sweet crude rose $1.13 to settle at $61.82 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after weekly domestic inventory data showed a surprise draw on stocks. The rally drove up stocks of oil companies; Chevron rose 66 cents to $68.33; Exxon Mobil rose 64 cents to $71.64; and ConocoPhillips climbed $1.34, or 2 percent, to $67.16.

Overseas markets, which have influenced U.S. trading over the past week, finished mixed and contributed to Wall Street’s uncertainty.

“I think stocks have seen the bulk of the declines. I think we will in the next couple of months or so be testing highs,” said Steven Goldman, chief market strategist at Weeden & Co.

Wall Street also found little inspiration from the Fed’s survey, and largely shrugged off the ADP National Employment Report, which found private-sector employment rose by 57,000 jobs last month, the weakest reading since July 2003. The findings arrived before Labor Department’s employment report tomorrow, which investors will be closely watching to help gauge the health of the U.S. economy’s lifeblood: its consumers.

Still, there’s no sense of panic in the markets.

The weak housing market, however, continues to dog the market. According to CNBC, D.R. Horton Inc.’s chief executive, Donald Tomnitz, said in a Citigroup webcast yesterday to investors that “2007 is going to suck, all 12 months,” and that the homebuilder will probably miss its internal goals for the year on home closings and slip below year-ago levels.

D.R. Horton fell a penny to close at $24.55, and fell another 15 cents in aftermarket trading.

In other corporate news, CV Therapeutics Inc. fell $2.92, or 24 percent, to $9.38 after the drug maker said its only approved drug failed to show adequate improvement over a placebo at treating heart disease.

Friendly Ice Cream Corp. jumped $1.95, or 16 percent, to $13.79 after the restaurant chain said it would consider putting itself up for sale and that it turned a profit in the fourth quarter.

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