US blue chips off, techs up

By Elizabeth Lazarowitz

NEW YORK: Blue chips slipped and technology shares ended with slim gains on Friday as the market’s recent strength and new security alerts put investors on guard, dampening enthusiasm for an upbeat manufacturing report. 

The market kicked off the first trading day of 2004 on a positive note after the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) reported that its monthly manufacturing index for December jumped to a 20-year high of 66.2, up from November’s 62.8 and easily beating economists’ forecasts of 61.0. An index reading over 50 shows expansion in the sector. 

New orders, seen as a sign of future growth, rose to their highest level since July 1950. The upbeat data helped lift stocks and the dollar and prompted a sharp drop in US Treasury bond prices. 

But stocks lost momentum in the afternoon as investors’ security fears were raised by news that British Airways cancelled a London-Washington flight because of a potential threat – the seventh time a US-bound flight was cancelled in just over a week. 

“There’s still the terrorist threats, possibly lasting through the weekend, and anybody who has got stray long positions is getting out of them,” said Tim Heekin, director of trading at Thomas Weisel Partners. 

“You had a really nice open off the ISM number . . . but I just think it’s a Friday, with light attendance.” 

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 44.07 points, or 0.42%, to 10,409.85, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 3.44 points, or 0.31%, to 1,108.48. 

The technology-laced Nasdaq Composite Index inched up 3.31 points, or 0.17%, to 2,006.68. 

For the week, the Dow climbed 0.83%, and the S&P 500 jumped 1.15%. Both notched their sixth straight week of gains. The Nasdaq rose 1.70% for the week, its fourth consecutive up week. 

Many trading floors were still thinly staffed after the New Year’s Day holiday. About 1.1 billion shares were traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and 1.7 billion were traded on Nasdaq. 

The market notched hefty gains last month on expectations the economy and corporate America are on the mend and closed out 2003 on Wednesday with its first annual gain since 1999. 

“The fact that the market has come so far is probably one of the reasons it just feels a little toppy,” said John O'Donoghue, Credit Suisse First Boston managing director of listed trading. 

AT&T Corp was the blue-chip Dow's biggest percentage gainer, helped by a report that it has raised rates for some customers. 

AT&T on Thursday started charging some customers a US$3.95 monthly fee, while BellSouth, the No. 3 US local telephone company, levied a 99 cent monthly fee on most of its residential long-distance customers, USA Today reported on Friday. 

Shares of AT&T rose 57 cents, or 2.8%, to US$20.87. BellSouth Corp shares slipped 3 cents to US$28.27. 

Drug distributors Amerisource Bergen Corp, McKesson Corp and Cardinal Health slumped after McKesson landed a large contract to sell drugs to veterans, raising concern that all the companies would have to cut prices to win future business. 

Shares of AmerisourceBergen fell US$2.15, or 3.8%, to US$54. Those of McKesson fell US$1.30, or 4%, to US$31 and Cardinal fell US$1.48, or 2.4%, to US$59.68. Several brokerages also downgraded their ratings on the companies’ stocks. 

Citigroup Inc rose on news that its Citibank unit would be among the first foreign lenders to gain entry in China’s consumer credit card industry. Shares of Citigroup, the world’s largest financial services company, rose 46 cents, or 0.9%, to US$49. 

US-traded Chinese stocks were among the day’s bright spots. Investors, hungry for a piece of China’s booming economy, snapped up shares of mainland companies, especially oil plays on forecasts that energy prices will remain high. 

PetroChina climbed US$6.65, or 11.7%, to US$63.70. China Petroleum rose 12% to US$49.90. – Reuters 

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