Profit-taking yields mixed reports from Wall Street

Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2001

NEW YORK -- Technology selling pressured stocks Wednesday, resulting in a mixed market despite strong gains in the financial and energy sectors.

Analysts said investors were consolidating their gains from the recent tech rally. They also attributed some of the losses to Wall Street's unwillingness to leave too much in the market until the signs of a recovery become more definite.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 72.10, or 0.7 percent, at 10,070.49, its fourth straight advance and first close above 10,000 in a week and a half.

Broader stock indicators were split. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 6.64, or 0.6 percent, at 1,149.56, but the technology-laden Nasdaq composite index lost 21.87, or 1.1 percent, to 1,982.89.

''Tech stocks have run up a long way from Sept. 21. The concern is that ... perhaps the valuations have gotten ahead of themselves,'' said Richard A. Dickson, technical analyst at Hilliard Lyons. ''If that's the case, perhaps it's time to take some profits.''

Motorola fell 85 cents to $15.76 on news it is trimming another 9,400 jobs. The company has now shrunk its work force by 32 percent -- 42,900 jobs through layoffs and 5,500 through sales of businesses -- since August 2000.

Other tech issues were weak, too. Intel dropped 76 cents to $33.05, while Ciena lost 86 cents to $14.61.

Wall Street seemed more interest in buying non-technology issues. Energy-related stocks advanced after reports that American officials had boarded an Iran oil tanker in the Persian Gulf. ExxonMobil rose 80 cents to $38.35.

Financial stocks were stronger, too, reflecting Wall Street's hopes that the sector will improve early in a recovery. American Express rose $1.22 to $34.60. General Electric, which has a significant financial services business, gained $1.06 to $40.78.

''People are buying in anticipation of better bank earnings as the economy improves,'' Dickson said. ''The lower interest rates that are out there right now also tend to help them out.''

Citigroup got an additional lift after announcing it is spinning its Travelers Property Casualty insurance business into a separate company to better focus on faster-growing financial services. Its stock gained $1.90 to $50.00.

Also Wednesday, Wall Street got a better-than-expected report on leading economic indicators. The Conference Board said economic fallout from the terrorist attacks was fading. The index moved up 0.5 percent last month; analysts had forecast a 0.3 percent gain.

Analysts say it is normal for some selling to follow an advance as investors lock in their gains. In this case, however, there is some lingering anxiety about the timing of a market recovery.

Although there are growing signs that the economy and some businesses are stabilizing, corporate earnings overall are still weak. As a result, the market has rebounded from its post-Sept. 11 lows, but struggled to move much higher. The Dow has hovered near 10,000, but been unable to stay above that mark for long periods; the same is true for the Nasdaq and the 2,000 level.

''It's a mixed story on whether we're recovering,'' said Nick Sargen, global market strategist at JP Morgan Private Bank. ''The manufacturing sector appears to be stabilizing, but it's too early to make the call that we've touched bottom. We're still nervous about consumer spending.''

Declining issues led advancers 8 to 7 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume came to 1.44 billion shares, compared with 1.32 billion Tuesday.

The Russell 2000 index fell 3.42 to 482.07.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.4 percent. In Europe, Germany's DAX index fell 1.1 percent, Britain's FT-SE 100 dropped 0.6 percent, and France's CAC-40 lost 0.3 percent.

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