Wall Street ended an otherwise stellar week with a mixed finish today after the government’s gross domestic product report renewed concerns that high energy prices and a lack of jobs are holding back economic growth.
Third-quarter GDP rose by 3.7 percent, according to the Commerce Department, less than the 4.3 percent rise Wall Street expected. However, the figure was stronger than the 3.3 percent growth in the second quarter.
“It’s not bad in a historical context, but for us to generate any meaningful job growth, we’re going to have to do better than that,” said Daniel Portanova, managing director at Gartmore Separate Accounts in Irivington, New York. “This isn’t enough to really do much for the equity markets.”
Soaring oil prices in the third quarter were partly to blame for the slower-than-expected growth, analysts said. As oil climbed through the 55 per barrel mark in October, investors feared a further slowdown for the fourth quarter as well. A barrel of light crude was quoted at 51.76, up 84 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 22.93, or 0.23 percent, to 10,027.47 - its fourth straight gain and the Dow’s first four-day gain since mid-August.
Broader stock indicators were narrowly mixed. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 2.76, or 0.24 percent, at 1,130.20, and the Nasdaq composite index lost 0.75, or 0.04 percent, to 1,974.99.
A sharp drop in oil prices this week helped stocks regain much of the ground lost earlier in the month, with the Dow posting back-to-back triple-digit gains on Tuesday and Wednesday, the first time since May 2003 that the blue chips accomplished such a feat. For the week, the Dow rose 2.76 percent, the Nasdaq climbed 3.13 percent and the S&P 500 added 3.14 percent.
Stocks finished the month surprisingly strong. As crude oil futures rose throughout October, stocks fell precipitously, setting new year-to-date lows on the Dow. Only this week’s gains salvaged the month’s trading – for the month, the S&P 500 added 1.4 percent and the Nasdaq surged 4.12 percent, while the Dow lost 0.52 percent.
On a historical note, research by the Hirsch Organization, publisher of the Stock Trader’s Almanac, found that in election years when the Dow posted a loss of 0.5 percent or more for the month of October, all incumbent candidates have lost. Like the election itself, however, the Dow’s performance this year might be too close to call.
Even as oil prices stabilized at 51 to 52 per barrel, many investors still remained on the sidelines as the elections loomed closer, waiting to see whether a candidate would emerge as the front-runner over the weekend or whether another contested election, like 2000, was in the offing.
“Oil’s up, we had some economic numbers that were not great, and we’re still seeing the market hanging in there,” said Todd Leone, managing director of equity trading at SG Cowen Securities.
“You’ll probably see some people try to make a few bets between now and Tuesday, but there’s a lot of people just waiting to see what happens.”
Energy costs may have also contributed to a decline in consumer confidence. The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index fell to 91.7 in October from 94.2 in September. However, the October reading was higher than Wall Street expected.
Rising oil prices helped ChevronTexaco Corp. to a 60 percent rise in third-quarter profits, though part of the gains came from one-time sales of non-strategic assets. With that gain aside, however, the nation’s second largest oil company, missed Wall Street profit forecasts by 3 cents per share. ChevronTexaco climbed 59 cents to 53.06.
Investigations of the insurance industry continued, with Connecticut’s attorney general subpoenaing Allstate Corp. in its probe of bid-rigging and price fixing throughout the industry. Allstate nonetheless gained 39 cents to 48.09, while previous investigation targets Marsh & McLellan Cos. Inc. was down 56 cents at 27.66 and American International Group Inc. dropped 50 cents to 60.71.
Halliburton Co. gained 79 cents to 37.04 despite an Associated Press report that the FBI has launched a probe into whether the U.S. government improperly awarded no-bid contracts to the company for services in Iraq.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Merck & Co.’s new pain reliever Arcoxia, was “approvable” pending further review of clinical data. Arcoxia, which Merck hopes will replace the discredited Vioxx arthritis drug, was not expected to be approved. Merck lost 26 cents to 31.31.
Merck rival Bristol Myers-Squibb Co. slipped 58 cents to 23.43 after the drug maker reported a 16 percent drop in profits for the third quarter. The company’s results were in line with Wall Street expectations.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 5 to 4 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.5 billion shares, compared with 1.63 billion at the same point on Thursday.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was down 1.84, or 0.31 percent, at 583.79.