- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2009

Wall Street closed Friday with losses, as upbeat retail reports could not ease concerns about global economic worries.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 8,277.32, down 14.81 points. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stocks Index closed at 887, down 1.33 points, and the tech-heavy NASDAQ closed at 1,692.01, down 3.24 points.

Sears and Gap were among the major U.S. retailers with first-quarter earnings that exceeded analysts’ expectation.

Sears Holding Corp., which includes Sears and Kmart stores, reported a first-quarter profit of $26 million, compared to a $56 million loss in the same 2008 quarter.

Sears stock closed at $55.40, up $5.21.

Gap reported quarterly net earnings of $215 million, $34 million less than the same period in 2008. However, the San Francisco-based company that includes Banana Republic and Old Navy, said store sales decreased this quarter less than in the first quarter of 2008 and online sales increased 13 percent compared to the first quarter of last year.

Gap stock closed at $14.39, up 41 cents a share.

The reports followed losses Thursday, then early Friday on news that Standard & Poor’s might cut Britain’s credit rating for taking on too much debt, which prompted fears about the same happening to the United States.

The countries have had to increase their debt to bailout banks and other industries to help them survive the recession.

The dollar fell to its lowest level in roughly five months against the euro amid concerns the U.S. government’s credit rating would be downgraded.

Trading was light Friday on the eve of the holiday weekend. And U.S. markets are closed Monday for Memorial Day.

The markets are up more than 30 percent since hitting a 12-year low in early March as major U.S. banks now appear stable and are raising money to repay government bailout loans and cushion against a prolonged recession.

However, the Dow lost 129.91 points Thursday, its fourth loss in five days. Analysts say investors are concerned about the markets recovering too fast and growing too big amid the such lingering problems as high unemployment, tight credit and a struggling housing market.

“It’s reasonable to assume the markets would retrench after such a powerful rally,” said Tobias M. Levkovich, chief U.S. equity strategist for Citi Investment Research.

Mr. Levkovich said investors should “look for signals not noise” by eschewing daily news to examine such fundamentals as more capital becoming available and banks beginning to lend more.

“All of this is good,” he said. “There’s a willingness out there to lend.”

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock was down 0.41 percent. In afternoon trading, Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.46 percent, Germany’s DAX index rose 0.37 percent, and France’s CAC-40 rose 0.33 percent.

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