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Posted at 12:20 p.m., Friday, January 31, 2003

Blue chip gains unable to soften weekly losses

Hawai'i Stocks
Updated Market Chart

By Amy Baldwin
Associated Press

NEW YORK Investors took some chances on blue chips today, picking up bargains after the Dow Jones industrials' nearly 900-point drop over the past two weeks. But the buying wasn't enough to save Wall Street from its third-straight weekly decline, or from heavy losses for the month.

Analysts attributed the day's gains to investors seeking lower-priced stocks rather than improving sentiment about the market or the economy, especially because the news on both fronts was mixed. The blue chip advance came despite investors' ongoing concerns that a war with Iraq would derail what's already been feeble economic progress.

"Is there anything that has significantly changed that justifies or is driving this rally?" said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer at First Albany Corp. "And, my answer to that question is, No."

The Dow closed up 108.68, or 1.4 percent, at 8,053.81, according to preliminary calculations. For the week, the Dow lost 1 percent.

The broader market was mixed, with technology issues slipping on signs of further weakness in the chip sector.

The Nasdaq composite index slipped 1.44, or 0.1 percent, to 1,320.91. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 11.09, or 1.3 percent, to 855.70. For the week, the Nasdaq fell 1.6 percent and the S&P lost 0.7 percent.

All three indexes endured declines in eight of the previous 11 sessions. Over that period, the Dow plummeted 897.49. And, despite today's surge, the indexes suffered their third straight weekly losses, which hasn't happened in almost four months, or since the period that ended Oct. 4.

Likewise, it was a bad month for Wall Street. For January, the Dow fell 3.5 percent, the Nasdaq declined 1.1 percent and the S&P lost 2.7 percent.

Analysts were dubious that any buying would be long lasting. Investors have been refusing to commit to stocks before knowing whether there will be a war with Iraq.

Today's economic news was mixed.

The Commerce Department reported consumer spending rose by 0.9 percent in December. Boosted by free-financing deals on cars, it was the largest increase in spending in five months and better than the 0.7 percent increase analysts expected.

And the Purchasing Management Association of Chicago reported that its index of manufacturing activity in the Midwest rose to 56.0 in January from 51.7 in December. A reading above 50 indicates expansion in activity.

The Chicago manufacturing report is closely watched by Wall Street because it is considered a gauge of the health of the manufacturing sector across the nation. On Monday, the Institute of Supply Management, formerly the National Association of Purchasing Management, will release its report on U.S. manufacturing activity.

On the downside, the University of Michigan reported its consumer sentiment index fell to 82.4 in January from 86.7 in December.

Companies also produced mixed news. Honeywell rose 94 cents to $24.44 after meeting fourth-quarter earnings expectations and forecasting 2003 profit in line with analysts' expectations.

Disney advanced $1.15 to $17.50 on fiscal first-quarter profits that were 2 cents a share higher than Wall Street's estimate.

But the tech sector was pulled lower by chip equipment maker Applied Materials, which said first-quarter orders would decline by 35 percent, rather than the 20 percent previously projected. Applied Materials fell 98 cents to $11.97.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners 5 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange, where trading was light. The Russell 2000 index, which tracks smaller company stocks, rose 4.55, or 1.2 percent, to 372.17.