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Stocks rise after mixed economic, earnings news

TRADERS put in more of the "buy" orders yesterday that propelled the market in April to its best one-month performance in nine years.

Stocks ended higher on a day of quiet back-and-forth trading as investors determined that mixed economic data and earnings reports were reason enough to extend the gains seen in March and April.

Wall Street has been growing more optimistic about the economy stabilizing, but the reports yesterday brought a reminder that business conditions remain difficult and that a recovery in the economy is likely to be gradual.

A private group's measure of the manufacturing industry showed a slower contraction in April than March, however orders to US factories fell more than expected in March.

Companies also reported mixed results. MasterCard Inc.'s first-quarter revenue fell short of expectations and two major insurance companies posted losses for the first quarter. Reports from manufacturer Manitowoc Co. and computer security software maker McAfee Inc. topped expectations.

Rosy earnings reports have been a major driver of the stock market over the past few weeks. The S&P 500 index, a broad measure of the market, rose 9.4 percent in April, the biggest monthly jump since March 2000.

"After the big run-up everyone is just trying to step back and trying to put their game plan together for the next month," said Sean Simko, head of fixed income management at SEI Investments in Philadelphia. "It's healthy for the market to take a break."

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 44.29, or 0.5 percent, to 8,212.41.

Broader market measures also posted gains. The S&P 500 index rose 4.71, or 0.5 percent, to 877.52, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 1.90, or 0.1 percent, to 1,719.20.

Investors looked to the economic and earnings reports for clues about the economy.

MasterCard fell US$10.55, or 5.8 percent, to US$172.90 after the company's warning about continued weakness in revenues touched off concerns that the economy could take longer to stabilize than expected.

The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. and MetLife Inc. both posted losses for the first quarter. The Hartford fell 91 cents, or 7.9 percent, to US$10.56, while MetLife fell US$2.30, or 7.7 percent, to US$27.45.

Ford Motor Co. fell 29 cents, or 4.9 percent, to US$5.69 after sales of light trucks and vehicles fell 32 percent in April from a year earlier.

General Motors Corp.'s April sales fell 34 percent, but that's the smallest decline for the beleaguered automaker since December. GM fell 11 cents, or 5.7 percent, to US$1.81.

There were some bright spots in the earnings reports, however.

Manitowoc reported a first-quarter loss on hefty impairment charges, but results from the maker of cranes and foodservice equipment topped Wall Street's expectations. The stock rose 54 cents, or 9.1 percent, to US$6.49.

McAfee's profit jumped 77 percent, pushing its stock up US$2.92, or 7.8 percent, to US$40.46.

News on Thursday that Chrysler LLC will go through bankruptcy reorganization put just a small dent in Wall Street's recovery, which began in early March.

Many obstacles could stymie the rally, however, including the upcoming results of how major banks fared under government "stress tests," which are expected on Thursday. The tests are meant to show which of the 19 largest US banks need more capital to survive a severe economic downturn.

Simko said it was encouraging that the stock market was taking the news of the delay well.

"Investors easily could have assumed the worst with the delays," he said. "It's a positive that they're waiting for the results and not trying to anticipate what is going to be revealed."

Citigroup Inc. is one of the banks investors are most worried about. Yesterday, Citigroup announced it is selling its Japanese brokerage business to Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. for about US$5.6 billion. The troubled bank has been shedding businesses over the past year to slim down and raise cash. Citi fell 8 cents, or 2.6 percent, to US$2.97.

The Federal Reserve announced yesterday that it would launch a much-awaited program in June to bolster commercial real-estate lending.

Financial stocks mostly fell. Wells Fargo & Co. fell 40 cents, or 2 percent, to US$19.61, while Goldman Sachs Group Inc. fell US$1.42, or 1 percent, to US$127.08.

Energy stocks rose as light, sweet crude rose US$2.08 to settle at US$53.20 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Occidental Petroleum rose US$2.18, or 3.9 percent, to US$58.47, while Devon Energy Corp. rose US$2.29, or 4.4 percent, to US$54.14.

In other trading, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 0.58, or 0.1 percent, to 486.98.

About two stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to a light 1.29 billion shares.

US government bond prices fell, pushing the yield on the 10-year note up to 3.16 percent from 3.12 percent late Thursday.


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