Markets & Finance

Stocks Finish Mixed


Halloween brought few tricks -- or treats -- to investors in Friday's session on Wall Street. Stocks ended little changed, with the major indexes paring earlier gains as traders adjusted portfolios on the last day of the month, and for most mutual funds, the last trading day of their fiscal year.

The Dow Jones industrial average added 14.5 points, or 0.15%, to 9,801.10. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index finished up 3.77 points, or 0.36%, to 1,050.71. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index was nearly unchanged, down 0.48 point, or 0.02%, to finish at 1,932.21. Pharmaceutical, and oil and gas shares gained.

"The action today and this week has been pretty good," says Art Hogan, market strategist at Jefferies & Co. "A lot of that was driven by earnings news." However, next week things shift "from corporate news to economic data. The news we've gotten on the economic side has been more good than bad, so looking ahead, the first and second quarters should look good, and will justify the gains that have been made."

The University of Michigan consumer sentiment index rose to 89.6 for October, up from a preliminary reading of 89.4 preliminary (87.7 in September). Expectations improved to 83.0 from the 81.2 preliminary figure (80.8 in September), reports economic research firm MMS International. Meanwhile, the present situations component slipped to 99.9 from 102.2 preliminary (98.4 in September).

Another economic report showed improving conditions in the Midwest region. The Chicago PMI index rose to 55.0 in October from 51.2 in September, in line with economists' median forecasts, but well below "whisper numbers" around 59 or 60, notes MMS. The new orders component rose to 59.2 from 53.2, prices paid gained to 61.5 from 51.8, while employment surged to 53.1 from 45.3. Overall the data conveys a strong pace of manufacturing activity for the region, says MMS.

Also, the Commerce Department reported that personal spending fell 0.3% in September after gains of 1.1% in August and 1% in July. Though the data were slightly bearish for stocks, they came after Thursday's upbeat news that the U.S. economy grew a faster-than-expected pace in the third quarter.

Third quarter earnings season continued to wind down. Health insurer Cigna (CI) posted a quarterly profit after reporting a big net loss a year ago. The results came thanks to a strengthening in its international and disability and life businesses. Citigroup upgraded the stock to buy from hold. Cigna finished 19% higher.

Oil major ChevronTexaco (CVX) also posted a third-quarter profit after a loss in the year-ago quarter. The company credited higher oil and gas prices and fatter refining and marketing margins for the performance. The stock ended 3.5% higher.

Financial services company John Hancock (JHF), which is expected to be sold to Canadian insurer Manulife Financial, gained 2% after reporting 21% higher third-quarter profits, lifted by strong sales in its core life insurance products.

And agribusiness concern Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) posted higher quarterly earnings thanks to strength in its corn and wheat processing operations which offset weakness in oilseed processing. The stock gained 5.8%.

American Power Conversion (APCC) was lifting electrical components higher after reporting third quarter earnings of 28 cents vs. 21 cents per share, on a 17% revenue rise. Jefferies upgraded the stock to buy from hold; S&P reiterates its hold rating. The stock added 13%.

Three companies making initial public offerings on Friday had successful debuts. Genitope (GTOP) surged 39% from its $9 offering; First Marblehead (FMD) added 38%; and Overnite (OVNT) was 17% higher than its initial offering price of $19 per share.

Next week is packed with economic news, beginning with a read on construction spending on Monday. MMS expects construction spending to rise 0.6% in September following an 0.2% gain in August. Also on Monday, the October ISM is expected to jump to 56.0 from September's level of 53.7, says MMS. "Overall, most recent manufacturing data have suggested a sharp upswing in factory activity in October and we expect this report to be consistent with that theme." Weekly jobless claims arrive on Thursday, and on Friday, the much-anticipated updated unemployment rate, which MMS expects to stay put at 6.1%.

Treasury Market

Treasuries ended higher on Friday. The end of the month "brought a modest reprieve for Treasuries after a volatile week that encompassed a FOMC meeting and a two-decade high, third quarter GDP result," says MMS.

The dollar moved higher as Europe wrapped up the week, with the euro now chewing through sell-stops just under $1.16, while the same applied to dollar-yen over 110 yen, says MMS.

World Markets

European stock markets finished mixed. London's Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index eased 19.00 points, or 0.44%, to 4,281.9 on position squaring before the weekend, says S&P's AdvisorInsight. The Bank of England meets next Thursday, when policymakers are expected to hike rates due to a strong economy.

In Paris, the CAC 40 ended 14.16 points lower, or 0.42%, to 3,373.20.

Germany's DAX index finished slightly higher, up 10.16 points, or 0.28%, to 3,649.82. Germany reported flat September retail sales.

Asian markets finished mixed Friday. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index fell 135.87 points, or 1.27%, to 10,559.59. Mizuho Financial Group fell 5.94%, UFJ Holdings lost 4.47%, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group declined 4.%, and Mitsubishi Tokyo Financial Group dropped 3.42%.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index gained 46.75 points, or 0.38%, to 12,190.10.


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