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STOCKS ADVANCE SLIGHTLY

Investors grew more conservative today following another round of lukewarm earnings reports. Stock prices were narrowly higher, with tech stocks faring better than blue chips.

At 1 p.m., the Dow Jones industrial average was up 15.29 at 9,355.37. The market's muted response to the earnings, which continued a trend that began Tuesday, contrasted with the excitement of Monday, when the Dow industrials soared 172 points.

The technology-dominated Nasdaq composite index rose 27.20 to 1,731.64 and the Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 2.57 to 1,087.35.

"A couple of earnings reports came in OK and that encourages people to take a little more risk" and start buying stocks, said Andy Abrams, who helps manage $100 million at CHW Associates in New York.

"People need to be optimistic now, everyone wants to believe that the market wants to go up."

The market followed its pattern of bidding up companies that exceed analysts' expectations and punishing those that fall short or warn of poor results ahead.

The Dow's biggest loser was Eastman Kodak, tumbling $5.37, or nearly 16 percent, to $28.80 after meeting earnings expectations but warning of reduced fourth-quarter profits. Kodak also is cutting between 3,500 and 4,000 extra jobs, doubling the 3,500 cuts announced in April.

Amazon.com plunged almost 19 percent, down $1.80 at $7.75, after posting a loss inline with expectations late Tuesday but indicating that business remains tough. The Internet retailer said fourth-quarter sales will be modest, ranging from flat to up 10 percent, and announced 1,300 job cuts.

Aerospace company Northrop Grumman slid $1.40 to 98.60 after missing analysts' earnings expectations by 19 cents a share.

On the upside, Argosy Gaming gained $1.37 to $29.80 on earnings that were a penny higher than expected.

Sears Roebuck rose 26 cents to $38.05 on earnings that surpassed expectations by a penny. The company also announced a restructuring plan that includes the elimination of 4,900 salaried jobs.

Chipmakers rose. They are among the first companies expected to rebound when the economy picks up. All 16 members in the Philadelphia Semiconductor Index advanced today, pushing the index up 3 percent. It has gained almost 26 percent this month.

Leading chip shares, Novellus Systems rose $1.55 to $33.57, Texas Instruments gained $1.40 to $30, Applied Materials advanced $1.08 to $34.95 and Xilinx added $1.07 to $29.31.

Citrix gained $2.09 to $23.45. The developer of software that links computers over the Internet predicted sales will grow at least 20 percent next year and reported third-quarter sales that beat analysts' estimates.

Nextel Communications jumped 67 cents to $8.07. The fifth largest U.S. mobile-phone company said its third-quarter loss narrowed on a 30 percent increase in sales as it added more customers.

"The notion that we are off to the races next year is a little too optimistic," said Scott Schermerhorn, who helps oversee $6.5 billion at Colonial Management Associates.

"There is too much enthusiasm about companies that seem to be squeaking by this quarter."

Some investors are waiting for companies to raise their profit forecasts before buying stocks, rather than jumping in because they aren't lowering their targets. Schermerhorn has been reluctant to start new positions because stocks are still expensive based on price to sales ratios, he said.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers more than 6-to-5 on the New York Stock Exchange. The Russell 2000 index fell 0.21 to 427.16.

Overseas markets were mixed Wednesday. Japan's Nikkei stock average ended the day down 0.6 percent. In afternoon trading, Germany's DAX index was up 1.4 percent, France's CAC-40 gained 0.3 percent, and Britain's FT-SE 100 was off 0.4 percent.

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