US stocks lose steam before holidays

NEW YORK: US blue chip stocks ended a hair lower on Thursday, retreating from earlier gains as oil prices resumed their climb and investors were unwilling to take large positions ahead of a long holiday weekend. 

But the Nasdaq edged ahead, helped by stocks such as Internet media company Yahoo Inc, which rose 54 cents to US$31.41. Yahoo jumped 1.8% after the company’s board authorised a programme to repurchase up to US$3bil worth of its common stock over the next five years. 

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 13.15 points, or 0.13%, to finish at 10,442.87. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was down 1.11 points, or 0.09%, to end at 1,171.42. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up just 0.84 of a point, or 0.04%, to close at 1,991.06. 

For the week, the Dow ended down 1.8%, the S&P 500 fell 1.5% and the Nasdaq was off 0.8%. It marked the third consecutive week that all three indexes posted losses. 

Trading was moderate, with 1.36 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, below the 1.46 billion daily average for last year. About 1.70 billion shares were traded on Nasdaq, below the 1.81 billion daily average last year. Advancers outnumbered decliners on the New York Stock Exchange by 10 to 7 and by 8 to 7 on Nasdaq. 

US financial markets were closed on Friday for the Good Friday holiday, so trading desks were sparsely populated as the afternoon wore on. 

“There’s just a lack of volume – maybe some people just left early, and why take additional risk over the long weekend?” said Elliot Spar, market strategist with Ryan Beck & Co. 

“Also, crude closed near the high of the day and that didn’t help.” 

US crude futures ended up more than US$1, a day after an explosion and a fire at a refinery in Texas, recouping some of the heavy losses sustained on Wednesday on account of rising US crude stockpiles. Nymex crude for May delivery settled up US$1.03, or 1.9%, at US$54.84 a barrel. 

High oil prices hurt equities by weighing on consumer spending and corporate profits. 

In economic news, new orders for US-made durable goods barely gained last month, but sale of new homes soared – mixed news that analysts said did little to alter a view of a solidly expanding US economy. The Dow Jones Home Construction Index climbed 1.35%. 

Earlier in the session, a higher first-quarter outlook from conglomerate General Electric Co boosted sentiment, but the stock later trimmed some of its gains. 

Shares of GE, which has an array of businesses from broadcasting to aircraft engines and is often seen as a proxy for the US economy, added 23 cents, or 0.7%, to US$35.73. Earlier in the day, GE rose as high as US$36.09. 

“GE was a small positive early in the morning and got us off on the right track, but I don’t think it had much carry- over,” said Alfred Kugel, chief investment strategist at Stein Roe Investment Counsel, an affiliate of Atlantic Trust. 

Defence contractor Northrop Grumman Corp also hiked its yearly earnings outlook. Its shares advanced 1%, or 53 cents, to US$53.31. 

General Motors Corp, the world's biggest automaker, advanced 2.2%, or 64 cents, to US$29.30. GM’s stock has tumbled since it warned last week that profits this year could be as much as 80% below previous forecasts. 

Among other movers, shares of Lexar Media Inc jumped 99%, or US$3.15, to US$6.32 after the maker of memory cards said a jury found Toshiba Corp liable for breach of fiduciary duty and theft of trade secrets and awarded Lexar more than US$380mil in damages. 

Meanwhile, Kmart Holdings Corp's stock jumped 6%, or US$7.69, to US$132.52. Shareholders voted to approve Kmart Holdings' US$12.3bil acquisition of Sears, Roebuck and Co.S, a deal that will create the No. 3 US retailer. 

Some market observers attributed the relative strength in tech stocks during the session to a rotation into the beaten-down sector. 

Cisco Systems Inc rose 13 cents, or 0.7%, to US$17.88, while Microsoft Corp gained 10 cents, or 0.4%, to US$24.28. – Reuters  

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