Markets & Finance

Stocks End with Losses


Stocks finished slightly lower Thursday, after a late-day rebound in the major indexes. Tech shares underperformed, partly on softer sentiment due to disappointing quarterly earnings and 2005 guidance from online retailer Amazon.com (AMZN).

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 3.69 points, or 0.03%, to move to 10,593.10. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3.30 points, or 0.28%, to 1,189.89. The Nasdaq composite index fell 17.42 points, or 0.84%, to 2,057.64.

Looking ahead to Friday, the most closely watched economic report of the week, employment figures for January, will be released. Nonfarm payrolls are expected to have risen by 200,000 in January, up from 157,000 in December, according to Action Economics. The unemployment rate is expected to hold at December's rate of 5.4%.

Friday's corporate earnings calendar brings releases from names such as Time Warner (TWX) and Ryder System (R).

In economic news Thursday, initial jobless claims for the week ended Jan. 29 sank well below median expectations, down 9,000 to 316,000.

But the good news on the labor front was countered by a report showing nonfarm productivity growth dropping to 0.8% in the fourth quarter from 1.6% in the third. The number was well below market expectations.

The non-manufacturing index from the Institute of Supply Management slipped to 59.2% in January, below market expectations of 61.3%.

U.S. factory orders rose 0.3% in December, below median estimates of a 0.7% increase.

Oil prices finished down 9 cents Thursday, trading at $46.60 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and up siginificantly from session lows.

On Thursday, tech shares were lower after a disappointing report from Amazon. The online retailer reported fourth-quarter earnings of 82 cents per share vs. 17 cents last year, falling well short of Wall Street expectations. Standard & Poor's maintained its hold rating on the stock.

In corporate news Thursday, Qwest Communications (Q) may be in merger talks with MCI (MCIP), according to The Wall Street Journal. Qwest is reportedly offering roughly $6.3 billion to acquire MCI.

Several retailers posted store sales Thursday. Wal-Mart (WMT) announced 2.5% higher same-store sales in January, and said it expected to see an increase of 2%-4% in February.

Federated Department Stores (FD) reported slightly lower same-store sales in January, but said its performance was still consistant with its fourth-quarter guidance.

May Department Stores (MAY) posted 7.2% lower January same-store sales, with 13% higher total sales.

J.C. Penney (JCP) reported it saw 3.3% higher same-store sales in January than last year. The retailer pegged its fourth-quarter guidance above average analyst estimates.

Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) posted 17% higher same-store sales in January, with 9% higher same-store sales for the fourth-quarter.

Starbucks (SBUX) saw 7% higher same-store sales, with 23% higher total sales. Citigroup downgraded the stock to hold, while Standard & Poor's reiterated its hold rating.

In other earnings news Thursday, U.S. Concrete (RMIX) reported a break-even fourth quarter, below the low end of its guidance. The company blamed unusually wet weather conditions in October throughout several markets, and poor weather in December.

CNET Networks (CNET) fell short of market projections, posting 6 cents earnings per share for the fourth quarter.

Steel Dynamics (STLD) saw a sharp revenue rise in the fourth quarter, but posted lower-than-expected earnings of $1.47, vs. 31 cents.

Treasury Market

Treasuries, hammered at the outset by inflation worries and an increased supply of new issues coming to market next week, finished lower in price Thursday, though off the worst levels of the session. Weaker than expected reports on factory orders and the ISM nonmanufacturing index weighed on the market. The 10-year note's yield closed at 4.16%.

After a short rally in the morning the dollar lost some of its momentum following the weak ISM and factory orders data. The euro traded at $1.297.

World Markets

European stock markets were finished lower Thursday. In London, the Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index fell 11.70 points, or 0.24%, to 4,904.50.

Germany's DAX index dropped 14.67 points, or 0.34%, to 4,281.64.

In Paris, the CAC 40 index lost 22.78 points, or 0.58%, moving to 3,928.94.

Asian markets finished lower Thursday. Japan's Nikkei average fell 17.79 points, or 0.16%, to close at 11,389.35.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index dropped 40.47, or 0.30%, to close at 13,515.33.


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