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NEW YORK — Wall Street retreated modestly in wobbly trading Thursday, putting its buying spree on hold to mull over mixed economic data. The Dow Jones industrial average briefly surpassed 13,500 for the first time, then pulled back.
Investors refrained from making any big moves after data Thursday showed strength in some areas of the economy, particularly employment, but weakness in others — giving little indication about whether the Federal Reserve will lean toward an interest rate cut later in the year.
Robust economic data Thursday included the Labor Department’s report that jobless claims fell last week for the fifth straight week, and the Philadelphia Fed’s May manufacturing index, which showed a stronger-than-anticipated increase. But the Conference Board forecasted slower economic growth, with its April index of leading economic indicators declining more than expected.
Ultimately, it was a fairly directionless day on Wall Street, with investors uninspired by Thursday’s data and more eager to hear about Friday’s consumer sentiment report from the University of Michigan, said John O’Donoghue, co-head of equities at Cowen & Co.
“The market’s kind of on this monotonous grind higher, and you’ll have days where you have a pause in the marketplace,” O’Donoghue said. “But it doesn’t seem like we’re going to have a correction anytime soon.”
New takeover activity, which has helped bring the Dow up more than 1,200 points over the past two months, failed to fuel a rally Thursday. Alliance Data Systems Corp. agreed Thursday to a $6.43 billion takeover by Blackstone Group, right after Acxiom Corp. said late Wednesday it was being bought by two private equity firms for $2.24 billion.
According to preliminary calculations, the Dow fell 10.81, or 0.08%, to 13,476.72, after rising as high as 13,516.71. On Wednesday, the index reached its 23rd record close of the year.
Broader indexes also declined. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 1.39, or 0.09%, to 1,512.75, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 8.04, or 0.32%, to 2,539.38.
Bonds fell after the unemployment data, pushing up the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note to 4.76% from 4.71% late Wednesday.
Crude oil prices rebounded sharply on supply fears ahead of the summer driving season. A barrel of light sweet crude rose $2.31 to $64.86 on the New York Mercantile Exchange — a bad sign for U.S. drivers, who have been seeing gasoline prices hit new records day after day.
The dollar rose against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.
Many market watchers say stocks may eventually see a big dip as investors cash in profits, but that the long-term trend for the market is positive.
“It’s not one of those you-can’t-lose situations, but the odds are stacked in your favor if you’re a disciplined investor. There’s more room for catch-up,” said Philip S. Dow, managing director of equity strategy at RBC Dain Rauscher in Minneapolis. He added that it’s only a matter of time before the S&P 500 hits a new record above its closing high of 1,527.46 reached in March 2000.
One reason for optimism is the abundance of cash in the marketplace, as evinced by the recent slew of takeover deals.
After their takeover offers were announced, private-label credit card services provider Alliance Data Systems rose $15.50, or 25%, to $78.46, and data management company Acxiom rose $4.28, or 18%, to $27.95.
The best performer among the 30 Dow components was Boeing Co., which said it struck a tentative deal to avoid a machinist union strike. The aerospace manufacturer rose $1.10 to $96.44, after peaking at an all-time high of $96.88.
The worst Dow performer was Caterpillar Inc., which fell $1.11 to $74.84 after a Stifel Nicolaus analyst downgrade.
In other corporate news, Sun Microsystems Inc. late Wednesday announced its board approved a buyback of up to $3 billion in outstanding shares. Its stock rose 18 cents, or 3.5%, to $5.30.
J.C. Penney Co. posted a 13% increase in first-quarter profit that exceeded analyst expectations, and raised its profit outlook for the year. The department store chain climbed $4.02, or 5.3%, to $79.74.
A speech Thursday by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in Chicago provided investors with little incentive to buy stocks. Bernanke acknowledged the number of mortgage defaults was growing, but said the problem would not seriously hurt the economy.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers by 5 to 3 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.46 billion shares, down from 1.51 billion Wednesday.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 4.56, or 0.56%, to 815.64.
Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 0.17%. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.30%, Germany’s DAX index rose 0.24%, and France’s CAC-40 rose 0.15%.
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