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Stocks slide after 5 days of gains as oil falls

INVESTORS pulled money out of stocks yesterday after a five-day rally left the market at its highest levels in nearly a year.

Stocks slipped in quiet trading after the recent string of gains and a drop in oil prices. Crude slid 3.7 percent, which hurt some energy stocks like Exxon Mobil Corp. That overshadowed a rosier profit forecast from FedEx Corp. and a government report on improving sales at wholesalers.

Even with the losses, stocks still logged big gains for the week.

The forecast from FedEx is important because its delivery business is seen as an indicator of how healthy the economy is. FedEx cited stronger international shipments and cost-cutting for the improvement. Investors track demand at industrial companies because rising orders would be one of the first signals that the economy is strengthening.

Separately, the Commerce Department reported that sales at the wholesale level rose in July by the biggest amount in more than a year, though inventories fell for a record 11th straight month. The rise in sales could lead businesses to start adding back to inventories, which would be a good signal for the economy.

The gains in industrial stocks came at the expense of areas that have been leaders in the market's six-month rally such as technology and financial shares.

"The market always overshoots on either side. I think we're at the point in the move where we need to see the fundamentals catch up to support these levels," said Sean Simko, head of fixed income management at SEI Investments in Oaks, Pa. "In the short-term, the market is going to take a little breather."

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 22.07, or 0.2 percent, to 9,605.41. The index closed Thursday at its highest level since October.

The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 1.41, or 0.1 percent, to 1,042.73, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 3.12, or 0.2 percent, to 2,080.90.

The eighth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks brought reflection on Wall Street also served a reminder of how little progress the stock market has made since then because of the steep slide that began two years ago. On Sept. 10, 2001, the Dow ended at 9,605.51; that is nearly identical to yesterday's close of 9,605.41.

About four stocks rose for every three that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.3 billion shares, compared with 1.5 billion Thursday.

For the week, the Dow rose 1.7 percent, the S&P 500 index added 2.6 percent and the Nasdaq rose 3.1 percent.

Meanwhile, gold again rose above US$1,000 to its highest level since February.

Frank Haines, chief investment officer at Christian Brothers Investment Services in New York, contends investors have been overlooking problems that remain in the economy such as bad debt.

"The stock rally we've had has been lead by some of the weakest companies out there," Haines said, pointing to financials and home builders.

The S&P 500 index is up 54.1 percent since hitting a 12-year low in March, although it is still down 33.4 percent from its peak in October 2007.

Rising commodity prices and signs of life in corporate dealmaking pushed stocks higher during the week, which was made shorter by the Labor Day holiday. Investors rising commodities prices as a signal that industrial activity could be picking up. Kraft Foods Inc.'s thus-far unsuccessful bid for rival Cadbury PLC this week was also seen as a sign of growing confidence among U.S. companies.

A rush of economic data next week could help investors determine whether the expected economic rebound is on track. Reports are due on retail sales, industrial production, housing and inflation. Analysts will be paying particular attention to reports on retailers because consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity. Any rebound in the economy will have to be accompanied by a greater flow of money into cash registers.

Bond prices were mixed after spiking Thursday when a government debt auction produced strong demand. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note was flat at 3.35 percent from late Thursday.

FedEx jumped US$4.66, or 6.4 percent, to US$77.32 after raising its forecast.

Electronics retailer Best Buy Co. fell US$1.29, or 3.1 percent, to US$39.76 after an Oppenheimer analyst lowered his rating on the stock, noting it has been trading near the top of their 52-week range.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 1.31, or 0.2 percent, to 593.59.


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