Mixed finish for US stocks

Stocks closed narrowly mixed today after profit reports and forecasts from blue chip names like International Business Machines Corp and General Electric Co failed to impress Wall Street and sent investors searching for other catalysts to drive the markets higher.

Stocks closed narrowly mixed today after profit reports and forecasts from blue chip names like International Business Machines Corp and General Electric Co failed to impress Wall Street and sent investors searching for other catalysts to drive the markets higher.

Profit concerns have unnerved investors already made skittish by the recent tug-of-war over whether stocks will move higher in 2007 with the same resolve as in 2006.

Recent weakness in technology stocks had upset Wall Street; tech stocks regained some ground a day after the Nasdaq composite index posted its biggest drop since late November.

“I think we’re at an extremely pivotal psychological level,” said TJ Marta, economic strategist at RBC Capital Markets.

He said earnings and economic data support the Federal Reserve’s notion that the economy can pull off a soft landing. He contends Wall Street is now mulling whether the economy will do a “fly-by” and skip a soft landing entirely with growth continuing apace.

The Fed is unlikely to lower short-term interest rates if the economy continues at a steady clip or if it begins to accelerate again.

The central bank has left interest rates unchanged at its last four meetings after a string of 17 straight increases that began in 2004.

Last year, investors propelled stocks sharply higher partly on the widely held view that the Fed would cut rates perhaps as early as the first half of 2007.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 2.40, or 0.02%, at 12,565.53.

Broader stock indicators were higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 4.13, or 0.29%, to 1,430.50, and the Nasdaq was up 8.10, or 0.33%, at 2,451.31.

Despite the slight movement in the indexes, advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.63 billion shares.

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