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Posted at 1:41 p.m., Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Food stocks among big Wall Street losers

Hawai'i Stocks
Updated Market Chart

By Meg Richards
Associated Press

NEW YORK ó The nationís first case of mad cow disease sent stocks moderately lower today in a quiet and abbreviated session on Wall Street. A government report that raised concerns about the recovery of the manufacturing sector contributed to the decline.

Food stocks were among the big losers, but analysts said it could be several days before the real impact of the news was understood. The delay might actually help limit knee-jerk reactions, said Barry Berman, head trader for Robert W. Baird & Co. in Milwaukee.

"Between the fact that there arenít a lot of people trading and itís year end and things are being done for tax purposes, itís real tough to make judgments on what kind of effect this is having," Berman said. "I think people are waiting to see how it carries over into the new year."

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 36.07, or 0.4 percent, at 10,305.19. Trading ended at 1 p.m. EST.

The broader indicators also ended the day with narrow losses. The Nasdaq composite index closed down 5.55, or 0.3 percent, at 1,969.23. The Standard & Poorís 500 index was down 1.98, or 0.2 percent, at 1,094.04.

The markets will be closed tomorrow, and a half-session is planned for Friday. Lighter volume is expected next week because of the New Yearís holiday.

Meat producers and retailers fell after eight nations halted U.S. beef imports on news that a cow at a farm near Yakima, Wash., had tested positive for mad cow disease. Fears about the brain-wasting disorder, which can be contracted by people who eat tainted meat, have prompted the massive slaughter of entire herds in Europe.

McDonaldís Corp. lost $1.32 to $23.96, Wendyís International Inc. closed down $1.87 at $37.79 and Outback Steakhouse Inc. fell $2.23 to $42.40. Tyson Foods Inc. dropped $1.08 to $12.90 and ConAgra Foods Inc. shed 27 cents to $26.13.

Some firms gained on the news. The nationís largest egg producer, Cal-Maine Foods Inc., closed up $3.23 at $35.13. Diagnostics equipment maker Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc., which has developed a test for mad cow disease, gained $10.04 to closed at $59.82.

Meanwhile, a report from the Commerce Department showed orders for big-ticket goods from Americaís factories dropped by 3.1 percent in November, the largest decline in more than a year. Economists forecast a 0.6 percent rise in orders for durable goods, which are big-ticket manufactured items expected to last at least three years.

The durable goods data was inconsistent with other recent economic reports that suggested growing strength in manufacturing.

In another report, the agency said new home sales declined by 2.4 percent in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.08 million.

Separately, a Labor Department report suggested the pace of layoffs is stabilizing. Claims for unemployment benefits slipped last week by a seasonally adjusted 1,000 to 353,000.