US stocks inch up in quiet trade


By DENISE DUCLAUX

NEW YORK: Stocks floated higher on light volume in a truncated session on Friday with Sharper Image Corp leaping after the retailer reported a robust holiday shopping season and steel producers gained ground after China scrapped retaliatory tariffs. 

Hamburger chains McDonald’s Corp and Wendy’s International Inc inched up following a sell-off in their shares in the previous session, on Wednesday, after the first case of mad cow disease was discovered in the United States. 

“People are thinking maybe there was an overreaction to the mad cow issue, and there is a little bargain hunting going on,” said Edgar Peters, chief investment officer at PanAgora Asset Management, which oversees more than US$11bil. 

The Dow Jones industrials ended up 19.48 points, or 0.19%, at 10,324.67, based on the latest available numbers. The blue-chip gauge snapped a six-day string of gains on Wednesday when Dow component McDonald’s sank more than 5% on mad cow fears. 

The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 edged up 1.85 points, or 0.17%, to 1,095.89. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite gained 3.91 points, or 0.20%, to 1,973.14. 

Trading floors were quiet with many Wall Streeters taking the day off. Almost 358 million shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange and about 529 million on Nasdaq. 

The stock market shut early at 1pm on Friday after having been closed for Christmas Day on Thursday. 

For the week, the Dow finished up 0.45%, the S&P rose 0.66% and the Nasdaq advanced 1.1%. For the year so far, the Dow has climbed 23.8%, the S&P 500 has shot up 24.6% and the Nasdaq has surged 47.7%. 

Sharper Image, which sells high-end gadgets, leaped US$2.42, or 8.1%, to US$32.39. The company boosted its earnings forecast and said sales at stores open at least a year were up 21% through Christmas Eve. 

Other retailers chugged higher on hopes that the holidays brought increased sales. Electronics chain Best Buy Co Inc rose 83 cents, or 1.7%, to US$50.56, and rival RadioShack Corp climbed 62 cents, or 2.1%, to US$30.56. 

“It being the day after Christmas, everyone will be trying to predict how holiday sales were,” said Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at Miller Tabak & Co. 

“Everyone wants to see how the holiday spending season was compared to last year since the economy is now on surer footing.” 

Wal-Mart Stores Inc nosed up 8 cents to US52.52 after reporting a surge in last-minute holiday shoppers on the last two days before Christmas. But it was not enough to make up for a soft start to December, and the world's largest retailer said it still expects to hit only the low end of its sales forecast for the month. 

US steel companies climbed after China scrapped steel tariffs that had been in place for 13 months, a widely expected response to the Bush administration's decision to end its controversial tariffs on steel imports earlier this month. 

Restaurant shares edged higher after sliding earlier this week on fears that consumers will shy away from beef because of the mad cow case. McDonald’s gained 13 cents to US$24.09. Wendy's added 20 cents to US$37.99. 

Steakhouse chain Outback Steakhouse Inc rose 32 cents to US$42.72. Rare Hospitality International Inc, operator of LongHorn Steakhouse restaurants, advanced 31 cents, or 1.3%, to $24. – Reuters  

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