US stocks static on interest rate concern

Stocks barely moved today as investors wondered whether a welter of weak economic data would end the Federal Reserve’s year-long streak of interest rate rises.

Stocks barely moved today as investors wondered whether a welter of weak economic data would end the Federal Reserve’s year-long streak of interest rate rises.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 13.85, or 0.13%, to 10,558.75.

Broader stock indicators were barely mixed. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.57, or 0.05%, to 1,227.73 and the Nasdaq composite index fell 3.18, or 0.15%, to 2,146.15.

Investors were displeased with the Philadelphia Federal Reserve’s report of a decline in almost every broad indicator it uses to measure the health of its region’s manufacturing. The readings “suggest little to no growth this month,” the report said.

The Labour Department reported lower-than-expected inflation data, but petrol prices jumped by the largest amount in two and a half years and unemployment filings spiked. Roughly 68,000 Americans filed for unemployment last week due to Hurricane Katrina, the largest increase in nearly a decade.

Traders hope signs of a weakening economy will cause the Federal Reserve to curb its year-plus streak of interest rate rises when the central bank’s Open Market Committee meets next Tuesday.

“A lot of investors are in a wait-and-see mode until we get the Fed behind us next Tuesday,” said Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co. “There’s a real split between those who think the Fed will and should take a break and those who think it will continue” incremental rate rises.

Bonds fell sharply, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.22% from 4.16% late yesterday. The US dollar was mixed against other major currencies in European trading. Gold prices were lower.

Both Hogan and Chris Johnson, manager of quantitative analysis at Schaeffer’s Investment Research in Cincinnati, worried that some investors will be disappointed if the Fed raises rates next Tuesday.

“My fear here is that there truly are expectations that the Fed is done, that the game is over,” Johnson said. “I don’t think that’s going to be the situation.”

As a result, he said, “The boring market today, watching the paint dry, is the precursor to a little more weakness down the road.”

Crude oil futures fell. A barrel of light crude settled at US$64.70 (€52.93), down 34 cents, in trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In company news, both Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday, as expected. The carriers have been hurt by high fuel prices and labour problems.

Delta rose 4 cents to 75 cents a share and Northwest fell 99 cents to 88 cents a share. The New York Stock Exchange is studying whether Delta should continue to be listed on the exchange.

Investment bank Bear Stearns fell 2.60 to 102.90 after its third-quarter profit swelled 34% to easily beat Wall Street’s targets but revenue from the company’s core bond segment declined slightly.

Google rose 53 cents to 302.62 after it said it would offer US$4.18bn (€3.42bn) dollars in stock at US$295 (€241.38) a share. The increase came despite the fact that the new offering will dilute current shareholders’ value and the company has not specified how it will use the money.

Time Warner rose 58 cents to 18.50 on a New York Post report that it was in talks with Microsoft’s Web unit, MSN, to sell a stake in America Online.

Declining issues led advancers by more than 8 to 7 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume was 1.49bn, down from 1.50m at the same time yesterday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 0.93, or 0.14%, to 665.42.

Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 1.19%. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.68%, Germany’s DAX index fell 0.11%, and France’s CAC-40 rose 0.20%.

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