Week ends mixed on Wall Street

US stocks finished an uneven session mixed today as investors grappled with the implications of a terror attack against a Saudi Arabian oil processing plant and a surprising decrease in factory orders.

The major indexes also ended the week mixed.

Before the market opened, news reports said two explosives-laden cars attempted to destroy a plant in Buqayq.

Although officials said the flow of oil was not halted, the news sent oil prices higher, with a barrel of light crude settling at US$62.91 (€52.97), up US$2.37 (€2), on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The bombing news came as investors weighed a sharp drop in big-ticket factory orders. The Commerce Department said durable goods orders fell 10.2% in January, the biggest drop in 5 years and far greater than the 0.2% decrease economists expected.

With energy prices rising and the economy slowing, investors’ fears of greater inflation, and the Federal Reserve’s rate hikes to combat it, have pressured stocks all week. Yet despite the news, analysts were pleased that the markets managed any gains.

“One of the most important signs of a bull market is when the bull market manages very, very bad news like we’ve had today,” said Hugh Johnson, chairman and chief investment officer of Johnson Illington Advisors. “So in that sense, you’ve got a very encouraging performance today.”

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 7.37, or 0.07%, to close at 11,061.85.

Broader stock indicators were modestly higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 1.64, or 0.13%, to 1,289.43, while the Nasdaq composite index gained 7.72, or 0.34%, to close at 2,287.04.

Bonds edged lower, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.58% from 4.56% on Thursday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

The markets finished the week narrowly mixed, reflecting the push-pull of optimism and concern Wall Street faces. For the present, investors remain fairly confident on the state of the economy, but a series of economic reports next week could provide new insights – and worries.

“There’s obviously a very bullish sentiment there when you look at the tape,” said Brian Williamson, equity trader at

The Boston Company Asset Management. “But you know, the volume’s a little quiet, and that sentiment can still change in a heartbeat.”

For the week, the Dow fell 0.48%, while the S&P gained 0.17% and the Nasdaq rose 0.21%.

Technology shares came under scrutiny after Dow component Intel was downgraded to “market perform” from “outperform” by Friedman Billings Ramsey and its price target was lowered to US$23 (€19.37) per share from US$31 (€26.10) per share. The analyst blamed lower demand and increased competition for the downgrade. Intel nonetheless rose 7 cents to 20.36.

Blackberry maker Research In Motion surged 4.25 to 74.05 after a US judge presiding over a patent dispute did not issue an injunction that would shut down the company’s widely-used mobile e-mail services. However, the judge has yet to rule on whether RIM violated another company’s patents.

In merger news, British utility National Grid rose 1.40 to 53.45 after it confirmed it was in discussions to purchase US natural gas and electric utility KeySpan Corporation for up to US$7.3bn (€6.15) in cash. KeySpan gained 32 cents to 41.41.

Time Warner slid 5 cents to 17.27 after the company said CNN founder Ted Turner would not seek re-election to the media conglomerate’s board. Former US Trade Representative Carla Hills is also stepping down as a director.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 3 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume totalled 1.44bn shares, compared with 1.58bn traded at the same point on Thursday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 4.15, or 0.57%, to 736.60.

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