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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 12:21 p.m., Friday, February 27, 2004

Listless trading ends a lackluster month

Hawai'i Stocks
Updated Market Chart

By Michael J. Martinez
Associated Press

NEW YORK — A selloff in tech stocks and buying in consumer products left Wall Street little changed today as investors tried to reconcile conflicting economic data — a surprisingly strong gross domestic product figure and a drop in a consumer confidence measure. The major indexes ended February mixed, stalling an 11-month rally, and the Nasdaq composite index suffered its first monthly decline since September.

The day’s trading continued the listless pattern that marked Wall Street’s performance throughout February. Strong, early gains were eroded by profit-taking on tech stocks, but the markets recovered somewhat by the afternoon.

"We saw some selling in semiconductors that took everything with it, but there’s no real reason behind it," said Larry Wachtel, market analyst at Wachovia Securities. "It’s a quirky kind of market."

Wachtel added that until economic data provides a stronger indication of the pace of the recovery, the wavering market will likely continue. The government’s jobs creation report expected March 5 could move the markets again, analysts said.

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 3.78, or 0.04 percent, to 10,583.92. The Dow ended the week 0.3 percent lower, its second straight weekly decline.

The broader gauges were narrowly mixed. The technology-focused Nasdaq composite index lost 2.75, or 0.1 percent, at 2,029.82, finishing the week 0.4 percent lower, the sixth straight down week for the index.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 0.03, or 0 percent, at 1,144.94. It was up less than 0.1 percent higher for the week after last week’s loss.

For the month of February, the Nasdaq lost 1.8 percent. The Dow gained 0.9 percent and the S&P 500 climbed 1.2 percent. — the fifth straight monthly advance for both indexes.

February lived up to its reputation as the weakest month for the stock market. But in spite of widespread expectations that stocks could retreat during the month, there was still disappointment that Wall Street’s rally of the past year had gone into at least a temporary limbo.

Some of the declines for the month came from a letdown after a solid fourth-quarter earnings season. But there also was confusing economic data that deprived the market of guidance for the near future.

Today, traders were pleased by the Commerce Department’s report that the economy grew by an unexpected 4.1 percent annual rate in the last quarter of 2003. The government’s latest data on the gross domestic product — the broadest measure of the economy’s health — beat the 3.8 percent growth forecast by economists. GDP reflects the value of all goods and services produced within the United States.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by more than 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.50 billion shares, compared with 1.38 billion at the same point yesterday.