- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2008

NEW YORK | Wall Street finished mixed in fickle trading Wednesday, with investors unsettled about the economy ahead of Friday’s employment report and only somewhat relieved about sliding commodities prices.

The Commerce Department gave the market just modest comfort when it said orders for manufactured products rose by 1.3 percent in July. The figure was higher than the 0.8 percent predicted by economists polled by Thomson Financial/IFR; the department also upwardly revised its June reading to an increase of 2.1 percent.

However, many traders brushed off the report as old news, given that it is now September. With automakers releasing sluggish August sales and the Federal Reserve reporting weak economic activity throughout the nation, investors proceeded cautiously.

Anxiety about the Labor Department’s August jobs report, due Friday, also prevented many investors from making any major commitments. It also had them largely shrugging off another drop in commodities, although a massive pullback in commodities since earlier in the summer has helped alleviate some of Wall Street’s inflation worries.

Light, sweet crude futures ended the day down 36 cents at $109.35 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

One reason for the market’s muted reaction to oil’s decline is because investors realize that crude has fallen partly because the growth of global demand is waning — bad news not only for energy companies, but also for the technology and industrial sectors. On Tuesday, stocks gave up a huge early advance only to close lower, as investors’ enthusiasm about oil’s selloff gave way to concerns about the economy in the United States and abroad.

“All the data in the last two weeks has actually been very good,” said Joseph V. Battipaglia, chief investment officer at Ryan Beck & Co., pointing to Wednesday’s factory orders data, falling oil prices, and the recent upward revision of second-quarter gross domestic product. “Despite all that, you didn’t get a commensurate market performance. And that’s troubling.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 15.96, or 0.14 percent, to 11,532.88, after rising by as many as 37 points and falling by as many as 100.

Broader stock indicators slipped. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 2.60, or 0.20 percent, to 1,274.98, and the Nasdaq Composite Index fell 15.51, or 0.66 percent, to 2,333.73.

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