Investors undeterred by retail sales woes
By Hope Yen
NEW YORK Investors looked past a disappointing retail sales report today, sending stocks moderately higher as they awaited fourth-quarter earnings news to help determine the economy's strength.
"The market is going to be choppy for a while," said Barry Berman, head trader for Robert W. Baird & Co. "The market is looking for positive economic news indicating that things are picking up."
"On the other hand, there's a lot of money on the sidelines. People are looking for opportunities to come into the market, so you have a lot of crosscurrents," he said.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 56.64, or 0.6 percent, to close at 8,842.62, according to preliminary calculations. Earlier in the day, blue chip stocks fell as much as 39 points.
The broader market also finished higher. The Nasdaq composite index climbed 14.97, or 1 percent, to 1,461.01. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 5.40, or 0.6 percent, to 931.66.
The Commerce Department today reported sales at the nation's retailers rose 1.2 percent in December as shoppers took advantage of incentives and drove up car sales by the largest amount in over a year. That followed a solid 0.9 percent gain in November.
But excluding automobile sales, which can swing widely from month to month, overall retail sales were flat in December, compared with a modest 0.3 percent gain in November.
Analysts said investors' ability to largely shrug off the news signaled a resiliency that bodes well for the market.
A.C. Moore, chief investment strategist for Dunvegan Associates in Santa Barbara, Calif., said often after a big rally such as the one in early January, the market tends to consolidate with sharp gains and losses. But today's movement was more sideways, a positive sign.
"We're experiencing a consolidation at a high level without a (pullback) reaction, which is an indicator of underlying strength," he said. "If you squint your eyes, you can see improving economic trends and high liquidity, conditions where markets tend to do a little better."
Berman said investors were watching earnings announcements closely to help gauge their next move.
"I think it's going to be a trading market, with movement based on the latest news, particularly with earnings reports and economic data coming out later in the week," Berman said.
Alcatel climbed $1.32 to $7.15 after the company raised its fourth-quarter sales outlook. The news lifted other telecom stocks, including Lucent Technologies, which rose 3 cents to $1.84, and Cisco Systems, which gained 30 cents to $15.58.
Barr Laboratories Inc. rose $2.89 to $76.97 after the drug company raised its earnings outlook for its fiscal second quarter, citing higher sales.
Chip maker Intel rose 41 cents to $17.79 in advance of its release of quarterly earnings after the close of markets today.
Decliners included Wal-Mart, which dropped 13 cents to $51.41, after confirming it might buy Britain's fourth-largest supermarket chain, Safeway PLC, which already has two attracted two other suitors.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners 5 to 4 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was light.
The Russell 2000 index, a barometer of smaller company stocks, rose 2.27, or 0.6 percent, to 398.45.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average finished 1 percent higher today. In Europe, France's CAC-40 inched up 0.1 percent, Britain's FTSE 100 dipped 0.1 percent and Germany's DAX index gained 1.2 percent.