Markets & Finance

Stocks Finish Higher


Though worries about high oil prices lingered throughout the week, stocks managed to finish higher Friday with help from a strong earnings update from Dell (DELL).

The Dow Jones industrial average ended up 10.76 points, or 0.11%, at 9,825.35. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index added 1.57 point, or 0.15%, to 1,064.80. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index rose 4.73 points, or 0.27%, to 1,757.22.

Looking to next week, retailers' earnings will be in the spotlight. Among industry names on the docket: Lowe's (LOW), Home Depot (HD), Kmart (KMRT), Nordstrom's (JWN) and J.C. Penney (JCP).

Several tech companines will also report earnings next week. They include: Applied Materials (AMAT), Network Appliances (NTAP) and CACI International (CAI).

The coming week also brings a pile of economic data. Investors Tuesday will mull updates on consumer price index, industrial production, capacity utilization, and housing starts. Initial jobless claims and leading indicators are due Thursday. The latest Philadelphia Fed manufacturing index will be released Thursday as well.

On Friday, computer and electronic equipment shares were higher after Dell, the No. 1 maker of personal computers, reported a strong quarterly earnings update and forecasted better-than-expected results for the third quarter.

The Dell news came after stocks had been punished on Thursday by lackluster outlooks from tech blue-chips Cisco Systems (CSCO )and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ).

Crude oil prices remained a cloud over the market. September futures for the benchmark West Texas Intermediate grade, which surged to a 21-year high of $46.39 a barrel at midday, were up 73 cents to $46.23 on problems at U.S. refineries, worries of sabotage in Iraq's oil industry, possible supply disruptions in Venezuela, and red-hot global demand.

In earnings news, Analog Devices (ADI), maker of cell phone chips, posted a higher profit but said sales fell short of expectations and customer demand was tenuous.

Electronics and testing equipment maker Agilent Technologies ()" channel="pi"/>) reported a quarterly profit and stood by its previous guidance for the current quarter.

In other tech news, PalmSource (PSRC), a provider of the Palm OS operating system for mobile devices, said its chairman, Eric Benhamou, will resign after the annual stockholders meeting on Oct. 28, in a move to make room for more independent directors on the board.

Airline operator US Airways Group (UAIR) could be back in bankruptcy by the middle of September if it does not achieve more cost cuts, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

On the economic front Friday, the producer price index, a gauge of inflation at the wholesale level, rose 0.1% in July after a 0.3% drop in June. Economists had been expecting a rise of 0.3% in the month compared with a 0.3% decline in the previous month.

But while the news on inflation was favorable, a report on the U.S. trade deficit was not. The trade gap surged to a record $55.82 billion in June, vs. the $47.5 billion consensus forecast of economists.

A widely followed measure of consumer sentiment also disappointed. The University of Michigan index fell to 94.0 in August from the 96.7 level seen in July. Markets expected an increase to 98.0 in August.

Treasury Market

Treasuries finished higher in price in the wake of small rise in producer prices and a weaker-than-expected readin on the Michigan Consumer Sentiment index. The yield on the benchmark 10-year note fell to 4.21%.

World Markets

European stock markets finished lower Friday amid high oil prices. London's Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index fell 26.6 points, or 0.61%, to 4,301.5. British Airways was lower as the carrier prepared to double its surcharge on long-haul fares to recoup part of the cost of rising fuel prices.

In Germany, the DAX index was lower by 11.12 points, or 0.30%, to 3,646.99. E.ON was higher after J.P. Morgan raised its earnings estimates for the company. Infineon Technologies rose in reaction to Dell's upbeat outlook.

In Paris, the CAC 40 index lost 9.39 points, or 0.27%, to 3,484.84. Euronext was lower after reporting its second-quarter sales fell 5.1%. Alcatel moved higher in sympathy with Dell's upbeat outlook.

Asian stock markets closed lower. Japan's Nikkei 225 index shed 270.87 points, or 2.46%, to 10,757.2, amid a far worse-than-expected report on growth there. Government data showed gross domestic product between April and June grew 1.7% on an annualized basis, compared with a median forecast by analysts of 4.1% growth.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index lost 53.6 points, or 0.43%, to 12,359.83.


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