Markets & Finance

Stocks Finish Slightly Higher


Stocks finished with slight gains Monday as traders took profits after a mid-session rise, and oil prices pulled back from a jump earlier in the session.

"It looks like we have had another day when higher prices attracted sellers," says Standard & Poor's chief market analyst Paul Cherney.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 17.07 points, or 0.16%, to 10,621.03. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 4.05 points, or 0.34%, to 1,190.24. The Nasdaq composite index gained 8.43 points, or 0.40%, to 2,097.04.

Oil futures finished down 10 cents to $45.33 a barrel Monday, pulling back from session highs of $47.30.

In economics news, U.S. wholesale trade sales rose 0.7% vs. the 1.6% boost in October, in line with expectations. Wholesale inventories rose 1.1%.

The economics report flow will be heavy later in the week. Topping the list is a reading on Friday on wholesale inflation in December. That number is seen increasing only 0.1% for the month vs. a 0.5% increase in the previous month. Excluding volatile food and energy prices, the gauge is seen ticking up 0.2%, the same amount as in November. December retail sales are due out on Thursday. They are seen increasing 0.4% excluding auto sales vs. a 1.6% rise in the previous month.

Investors were greeted by a number of merger-related headlines on Monday. Telecom sector consolidation continued as rural carrier Alltel (NWS) agreed to acquire Western Wireless (WWCA) in a cash and stock deal.

News Corp. (NWS) made a proposal to buy the remaining shares of Fox Entertainment (FOX) it does not already own for 1.9 News Corp. shares per Fox share.

Video-rental company Movie Gallery (MOVI) announced it would acquire Hollywood Entertainment (HLYW) for $1.2 billion in cash and debt, a figure 15% higher than Blockbuster's (BBI) December bid for the company. The move would make Movie Gallery the No. 2 video retailer after Blockbuster.

In other corporate news Monday, the New York State Attorney General's office stated that in its case against insurance giant Marsh & McLennan (MMC), it intends to pursue criminal charges against the highest-level executives possible.

American Pharamaceutical Partners (APPX) announced that the FDA approved the use of Abraxane, a breast-cancer drug the company developed with privately-held American Bioscience.

Isis Pharmaceuticals (ISIS) announced it would cut its work force by about 40% as a part of its reorganization efforts.

Poultry company Pilgrim's Pride (PPC) raised its first-quarter guidance, citing lower feed costs, and stronger-than-expected results in the prepared food division.

Goldman Sachs named WellPoint (WLP) as a top pick in the managed care group, causing the stock to rise 3.4%.

In earnings news, aluminum giant and Dow component Alcoa (AA) released its fourth-quarter earnings after the bell Monday. The company fell short of expectations, posting net income from continuing operations of 39 cents a share vs. 39 cents last year. The stock was down slightly in after-hours trading after declining in Monday's regular session.

Looking ahead this week, chip giant Intel (INTC) reports on Tuesday, Apple Computer (AAPL) releases results on Wednesday, followed by Sun Microsystems (SUNW), the server maker, on Thursday.

Treasury Market

Treasuries ended mixed Monday after the as-expected wholesale numbers, with shorter-dated issues little changed in price while the 30-year bond posted a small gain. The yield on the benchmark 10-year note finished at 4.27%.

The U.S. dollar corrected downward Monday after big gains Friday on bullish comments from Treasury Secretary John Snow projecting firm GDP and reiterating Bush Administration support for a strong greenback. Traders were keeping their eyes on the G-10 meeting, which began today. The euro ended at $1.302.

World Markets

European stock markets closed lower Monday.

In London, the Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index lost 13.40 points, or 0.28%, to 4,840.70.

Germany's DAX index fell 9.03 points, or 0.21%, to 4,307.37.

In Paris, the CAC 40 index dropped .14 points, to 3,877.82.

The Japanese markets were closed Monday for a national holiday. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 43.47 points, or 0.32%, to close at 13,531.39, amid worries that a flatter U.S. dollar may lead to an outflow of funds, according to Standard & Poor's MarketScope.


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