Profit-taking sends Dow lower

An unsettling report on consumer incomes set off a spate of profit-taking on Wall Street today as investors worried that a tepid economy would erode companies’ third-quarter earnings. Another drop in oil prices failed to shake the gloom from the market.

An unsettling report on consumer incomes set off a spate of profit-taking on Wall Street today as investors worried that a tepid economy would erode companies’ third-quarter earnings. Another drop in oil prices failed to shake the gloom from the market.

While investors were cheered by the Commerce Department’s report of a strong rise in consumer spending for July, nearly flat growth in personal incomes and a handful of profit warnings for the third quarter made investors nervous. The news prompted them to cash in their gains following two weeks of advances.

“There’s not a lot of resistance here, and you’re seeing a little bit of profit taking,” said Todd Leone, managing director of equity trading at SG Cowen Securities.” Trading lower is the path of least resistance.”

Trading volume was again extremely light as many on Wall Street refused to make large moves until the Republican National Convention concluded without incident. Many investors also awaited the government’s August employment report due on Friday, hoping for signs that the economy was emerging from a sluggish summer.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 72.49, or 0.7%, to 10,122.52.

Broader stock indicators were moderately lower. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down 8.62, or 0.8%, at 1,099.15, and the Nasdaq composite index dropped 25.60, or 1.4%, to 1,836.49.

The Commerce Department said consumer spending rose 0.8% in July, better than the 0.7% growth economists had expected and more than making up for the 0.2% drop in June. But despite the increase in spending, Americans’ incomes rose by only 0.1% in July, far less than the 0.5% forecast by economists and down from a 0.2% rise in June.

While consumer spending bodes well for short-term economic growth, the anaemic rise in incomes cast a pall over longer term prospects, since rising income is key in overcomin inflation in consumer costs. Moreover, Americans are less likely to spend freely if they’re concerned about the size of their paychecks.

Rising consumer prices have been exacerbated this summer by high energy costs, but the trend appears to be changing, at least in the short-term.

Oil prices fell sharply today even as Iraqi officials said the country’s oil output would be halted for a week due to insurgent attacks on the country’s pipelines. The October contract for a barrel of light crude was quoted at 42.28 dollars, down 90 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

“Oil has certainly come down a lot, but it’s still not low by any means,” said Jeff Kleintop, chief investment strategist for PNC Financial Services Group. “We still have terrorism worries with the RNC under way. We’ll have earnings warnings this quarter. I don’t think we’ll see a lot of movement in this quarter.”

The first of what could be many corporate earnings warnings were issued Monday. Tyson Foods Inc. dropped 1.47 dollars to 16.26 dollars after the meat producer reduced its 2004 earnings outlook, citing slow demand and problems with the company’s grain hedging activities. Earnings before one-time charges will be between 1.26 dollars and 1.33 dollars per share – analysts had forecast 1.45 dollars per share.

Accredo Health Inc., a speciality pharmacy management company, met its fourth-quarter earnings targets, but said its 2005 growth would be less than Wall Street expected. Accredo was down 5.75 at 22.05 dollars.

Oracle Corp. slipped 18 cents to 10.11 dollars after Wells Fargo cut its 2005 earnings forecasts for the business software maker. The brokerage nonetheless reiterated a “buy” on Oracle.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by more than 8 to 5 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 846.93 million shares, compared to 843.72 million on Friday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was down 7.11, or 1.3%, at 544.56.

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