Modest losses for US stocks

The US stock market greeted news of military attacks on the Taliban in Afghanistan quietly today, with prices falling moderately as investors tried to discern what the action would mean for the country and the economy.

The US stock market greeted news of military attacks on the Taliban in Afghanistan quietly today, with prices falling moderately as investors tried to discern what the action would mean for the country and the economy.

While tech shares eked out a tiny gain, investors mostly locked in profits from last week’s rally.

The market was worried that the United States will suffer more terrorism after American and British forces conducted missile attacks in Afghanistan, retaliating for the September 11 terrorist assaults. Investors were also concerned about how long and how much the weakened economy will suffer following the attacks.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 51.76, or 0.6%, at 9,068.01, after having risen 272.21, or 3.1%, last week.

The broader market finished mixed. The Nasdaq composite index inched up 0.67 to 1,605.97 to just barely claim its first five-session winning streak since the week of June 25. Last week, the tech-focused index rose 106.50, or 7.1%.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index, Wall Street’s widest measure, fell 8.94 to 1,062.44.

Today’s mild pullback was expected, given the political uncertainty and last week’s rally, spurred by the Federal Reserve’s ninth interest rate cut of the year and a push by President George Bush for an economic stimulus package worth $60 billion.

Analysts were also encouraged by the Nasdaq’s narrow gain and that blue-chip selling was not greater.

‘‘Markets have historically recovered from catastrophes with a decent relief rally. It appears we are in one of those right now,’’ one said.

Trading volume was lighter than normal, which could be attributed partly to traders’ caution, as well as the Columbus Day federal holiday. There also were no major third-quarter earnings reports due to be released.

Blue chip losers included the nation’s three big car makers, trading lower on a report in the Financial Times that Ford Motor, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler are slashing production by a further 196,000 vehicles before the end of the year. Ford fell 38 cents to dlrs 17.29, General Motors lost 71 cents to trade at dlrs 41.65, and DaimlerChrysler slipped 25 cents to dlrs 33.87.

Losses were spread across sectors, indicating investors’ unwillingness to bet on any business. Banker JP Morgan Chase fell 97 cents to dlrs 32.44, while Wal-Mart declined dlrs 1.29 to dlrs 51.11. Fast-food chain Wendy’s stumbled 66 cents to dlrs 26.54 after issuing a third-quarter profit warning.

The tech sector fared a little better, posting narrow gains and losses for the most part. Dell Computer rose 56 cents to dlrs 23.12 and Cisco Systems inched up 11 cents to dlrs 15.05. Both companies contributed to last week’s rally by affirming their earnings forecasts last week.

But Nextel Communications fell 80 cents to dlrs 7.94 after Merrill Lynch reduced its rating on the wireless networker’s stock.

Analysts expect the market to fluctuate in a narrow range throughout the week as investors continue to trade carefully amid the retaliation.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers more than 3 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was 966.65 million shares, well below the 1.31 billion shares traded on Friday.

The Russell 2000 index, which tracks the performance of smaller company stocks, fell 2.80 to 412.17.

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