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June 6, 2006 > Stocks end mixed as slowdown concerns build

Stocks end mixed as slowdown concerns build

by Christopher Wang AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP), June 02 _ Wall Street struggled to the finish Friday, closing out the week barely changed after a steep dip in monthly job growth left investors confused about the economy's health. The major indexes were narrowly mixed for the week.

The Labor Department said employers added 75,000 jobs in May versus a 126,000 gain for April. But while the sharply less-than-forecast increase was a sign of tapering economic growth _ which could prompt the Federal Reserve to stop lifting interest rates _ the mild figure raised questions about whether the economy was moderating too quickly.

Gregory Miller, chief economist for SunTrust Banks, said the jobs report bolstered beliefs that the economy would continue cooling off, but added that high energy costs remained a threat to prices elsewhere. He noted the Fed's challenge of striking a balance on lending rates so businesses can continue funding expansion.

"I think we're at a point now where going too far is a feasible risk," Miller said of the Fed's program of rate hikes, which increases the cost of borrowing money. "We're running the risk of a potential credit crunch. We haven't seen that yet, but with these conditions, it's virtually unavoidable."

However, a mild uptick in wages somewhat helped the inflation picture after the department on Thursday scaled back first-quarter growth in employers' labor costs. Average hourly earnings rose 0.1 percent, compared with estimates of 0.3 percent.

Some stocks found support from the New York Stock Exchange's planned acquisition of stock exchange operator Euronext NV, but surging oil prices and more losses for the U.S. dollar weighed on the market.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 12.41, or 0.11 percent, to 11,247.87. The Dow rose 166 points on Wednesday and Thursday.

Broader stock indicators fluctuated. The Standard & Poor's 500 index edged up 2.51, or 0.2 percent, to 1,288.22; the Nasdaq composite index fell 0.45, or 0.02 percent, to 2,219.41, but remained positive for the year.

Bonds surged on optimism about a possible end to the Fed's rate tightening. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note tumbled to 5 percent from 5.1 percent late Thursday.

Elsewhere, the U.S. dollar plunged against the Japanese yen but was flat versus European currencies. Gold prices bounced back to more than $640 an ounce.

Overseas stock markets showed signs of stabilizing after recent declines. Japan's Nikkei stock average gained 1.84 percent; Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.26 percent, Germany's DAX index lost 0.36 percent and France's CAC-40 was higher by 0.25 percent.

The major indexes ended yet another erratic week little changed. Investors were hoping this week that minutes from the last Fed meeting and data on labor costs and wages would clarify the outlook for interest rates, but mixed signals on inflation left the market right back where it began.

For the week, the Dow lost 0.27 percent, while the S&P 500 rose 0.63 percent and the Nasdaq gained 0.41 percent.

More skittish trading is anticipated next week, which brings only a handful of economic reports that bear little importance for the inflation picture. Until the Fed's June 28-29 policy meeting, investors will likely struggle to make sense of data that's expected to be fickle as the economy transitions to slowing growth.

"The clear slowdown in housing and indications of less consumer strength from Wal-Mart, those are showing that there are some risks here and that we're probably going to see more volatility in this data-dependant market until we can get past the summer," said Jeff Kleintop, chief investment strategist for PNC Financial Services Group.

Wall Street had little reaction to an expected drop in April factory orders, which backed views that demand is easing along with economic growth. Orders retreated 1.8 percent after climbing 4.2 percent the previous month.

Crude futures rebounded from two days of losses amid persistent worries about political tension in Nigeria and Iran, two of the world's biggest oil suppliers. A barrel of light crude soared $1.99 to $72.33 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The NYSE late Thursday said it agreed to acquire Euronext NV for $9.96 billion in a historic move that creates the first trans-Atlantic securities exchange. Euronext shunned a larger bid from Deutsche Boerse AG, which said it will continue pursuing a deal. NYSE Group Inc. rose $2.06 to $64.51.

Pulte Homes Inc. slashed its projected full-year earnings, citing a steep drop in orders for April and May due to greater inventory and rising mortgage rates. Pulte tumbled $1.70 to $31.33, and pulled down rivals Centex Corp. by $1.45 to $47.59 and Lennar Corp by 48 cents to $48.08.

Despite the major indexes' retreat, advancing issues still outnumbered decliners by about 2 to 1 on the NYSE, where final consolidated volume of 2.42 billion share fell behind the 2.57 billion shares that changed hands Thursday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gained 0.96, or 0.13 percent, to 737.46.

___

The Dow Jones industrials ended the week down 30.74, or 0.27 percent, finishing at 11,247.87. The S&P 500 index gained 18.06, or 0.63 percent, to close at 1,288.22.

The Nasdaq rose 9.04, or 0.41 percent, to end at 2,219.41.

The Russell 2000 index closed the week up 7.91, or 1.08 percent, at 737.46.

The Dow Jones Wilshire 5000 Composite Index _ a free-float weighted index that measures 5,000 U.S. based companies _ ended the week at 13,035.78, up 102.5 points from last week. A year ago, the index was 11,864.91.

___

On the Net:

New York Stock Exchange: http://www.nyse.com

Nasdaq Stock Market: http://www.nasdaq.com

 
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