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Archive for Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Stocks down in wake of earthquake disasters

Upbeat holiday sales, drop in oil prices fail to lift markets

December 28, 2004

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— Concerns about the economic impact of the Asian earthquake disasters pushed stocks lower Monday, putting Wall Street's recent rally on hold despite decent holiday sales figures and falling oil prices.

Analysts generally were pleased with the uptick in sales that most retailers reported late last week and in post-holiday shopping. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. saw sales rise modestly, while Amazon.com Inc. reported record sales during the holiday season.

Insurers, hotels and travel-related stocks fell as investors reacted to the Asian devastation, which could be one of the costliest disasters in history, though the economic impact for the United States appeared to be minimal. And with trading volume light during the holiday week, analysts said there was little to be divined from Wall Street's initial reaction.

"Low volume means everything's magnified," said Bill Groenveld, head trader for vFinance Investments. "Next week, we'll get a much better idea of where things are going."

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 50.99, or 0.47 percent, to 10,776.13.

Broader stock indicators saw modest losses. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was down 5.21, or 0.43 percent, at 1,204.92, and the Nasdaq composite index lost 6.40, or 0.3 percent, to 2,154.22.

Oil prices continued to drop sharply despite wintry weather in the Northeast. A barrel of light crude was quoted at $41.32, down $2.86, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That took the edge off troublesome currency news, as the dollar fell to another new low against the euro Monday.

Last-minute shoppers may have helped the retail sector exceed its diminished expectations for the year. According to SpendingPulse, a division of MasterCard International, retail sales rose 8.1 percent this holiday season, compared with a year ago. The National Retail Federation was expecting 4.5 percent growth; its figures have yet to be released.

"When you take a look at online sales and the phenomena of gift cards, and you put it all together, it appears it was a solid retail sales spending spree for the Christmas season," said Joseph Keating, chief investment officer at AmSouth Asset Management.

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