Stocks end mixed on investors’ concerns about earnings, slowing economy


Associated Press

NEW YORK — Investors, although tired of selling and eager for a rally, struggled in vain to find a direction today and sent stocks wavering throughout a choppy session.

Uneasiness about falling profits, the country’s economic slowdown and more analyst downgrades of high-profile stocks made it impossible for any substantial gains to stick. By the end of the day, investors had taken to their recent approach of bidding blue chips moderately higher and selling technology issues.

The Dow Jones industrial average at times soared above 100 points, but it retreated to close up only 31.85 at 10,494.50.

Broader indicators were mixed. The Nasdaq composite index ended off 4.19 at 2,871.45 after bobbing in and out of positive territory. It was the Nasdaq’s lowest close since Oct. 27, 1999, when it finished at 2,802.52.

The Standard &amp Poor’s 500 index rose 4.73 to 1,347.35.

Investors were still waiting for Wall Street’s typical post-election rally and they seemed to want to bid stocks higher. However, they had trouble overcoming growing disappointments about earnings and worries that the economy is slowing at an uncomfortably fast pace, analysts said.

"They’re trying to bounce a little bit," said Jim Myers, director of technical research for Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia. "But the economy is softening faster than most people suspected."

Investors were somewhat inspired by good earnings results reported by tech firms Agilent and Medtronic. Agilent, the company spun off by Hewlett-Packard, gained $3.69, ending at $48.25. Medtronic, a medical technology firm, rose $2.06 to $51.12.

But the market still has some unrealistic earnings expectations, and that means the sharp selloffs seen in recent sessions will continue when companies come out with disappointing results, analysts said.

"We are still going to have to come to grips with earnings expectations that are too high," Myers said.

But investors are right to focus on earnings, some analysts said.

"Prior to this year, you could buy just about any stock and it would go higher," said Chris Dickerson, market analyst for Global Market Strategists in Gainesville, Ga. "Now you have to be a lot more careful and pay attention to the fundamentals of the stock."

Investors punished Lucent Technologies, pushing it down $3.38 to close at $17.56, after it announced its fourth-quarter revenue is $125 million less than it first reported.

Yahoo! slid $7.19, or nearly 15 percent, finishing at $41.69 after Morgan Stanley Dean Witter’s Mary Meeker, the well-known Internet stock analyst, said it has a 30 percent chance of missing revenue estimates for the current quarter.

Investment firms that have been lowering their ratings of high-tech stocks were re-examining other sectors. Media companies fell after Morgan Stanley Dean Witter downgraded their stocks. Disney lost 50 cents to close at $29.37, and News Corp. fell 75 cents to $35.38.

The recent selloff in tech stocks prompted some bargain hunting. Network equipment maker Cisco Systems, which had fallen sharply over the past week, rose $2.44 to $53.69.

Drug stocks maintained their recent strength. Merck rose $1.87 to $91.96.

The Russell 2000 index, which tracks smaller companies, fell 3.45 to 466.79.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers 12 to 11 on the New York Stock Exchange where volume was 1.37 billion shares, well ahead of Monday’s 1.14 billion.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 0.8 percent. But Germany’s DAX index was up 1.0 percent, Britain’s FT-SE 100 gained 0.6 percent, and France’s CAC-40 rose 1.0 percent.

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