Dow Edges Higher on Rate News

From Times Wire Services

The stock market got a slight boost from the Federal Reserve Board's decision to do nothing on rates, giving the Dow Jones industrial average its sixth straight record high close.

The Dow finished 8.20 points higher at 6,274.24. The closely watched blue-chip average has closed higher every session since the day before the election.

The Standard & Poor's 500 and the Nasdaq composite index both rose Wednesday, but neither was able to eclipse the record high closes of Monday. The S&P; finished up 1.57 points at 731.13, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 4.19 points to 1,260.72.

The New York Stock Exchange composite index finished up 0.73 point at 386.91, and the American Stock Exchange's market value index rose 2.67 points to 584.31.

"'The main pillar in this market right now is earnings--that is what people are watching," said Chet Needelman, president of Palley-Needelman Asset Management. "This market is still pretty healthy."

Bond yields were little changed. The yield on the benchmark 30-year Treasury bond was 6.46%, up from 6.44% on Tuesday.

Bond yields have been hovering at eight-month lows, and they may decline further in coming weeks if investors see more evidence that the economy is slowing from the brisk pace of the first half of this year.

The economy is "exactly where the Fed wants it to be," said Leonard Lovito, who helps manage $600 million at J&W; Seligman & Co., a New York money-management firm. "The next thing people will be looking at is what the Christmas retail season will look like. If it appears that retail sales aren't anything special, the [bond] market could trade higher."

Perhaps more influential on the market, analysts said, are early indications that mutual fund inflows will pick up now that the uncertainty of the election has passed. Indeed, the Dow has risen more than 250 points so far in November.

Stocks wavered through much of the day Wednesday as wary investors waited until Fed policymakers finished their meeting at midafternoon. Although most economists had expected the Fed to stand pat on rates, the Dow rose 20 points in the moments after the central bank made its announcement.

Reports indicating tame inflation and modest growth persuaded the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee that the economy is on course for modest growth with stable inflation next year. Many economists expect that Fed's rate policy to hold for several months. Still, with stocks at such lofty highs and with the end of the year approaching, economic reports that would normally be regarded as inconsequential could shock the market, analysts said.

Worries about a sudden downdraft are starting to weigh on the current rally, said Barry Berman, head trader at Robert W. Baird & Co. The scheduled release today of consumer price index and retail sales reports has some investors nervous.

"People are concerned that if there are negative numbers . . . that it is the beginning of a trend, whether that's rational or not," Berman said. "It's the end of the year, and I think the inclination . . . is for people to do some profit-taking."

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 8 to 7 on the NYSE.

Among Wednesday's highlights:

* Texaco led the Dow's advance, rising 2 5/8 to 98 as the stock continued its up-and-down pattern since the racism scandal broke.

Exxon rose 1 1/4 to 90 1/4, an all-time high.

* DuPont, however, was a drag on the Dow, falling 2 19/64 to 92 61/64 on word that an analyst said the company was backing away from the idea of selling off its Conoco unit.

* Dell Computer was one of the most active issues on the tech-heavy Nasdaq, rising 3 3/4 to 92 3/8 on news late Tuesday that its profit rose 92% in the third quarter.

Microsoft shares gained 3 1/4 to 145 after its board approved a sixth stock split in 10 years, to make the shares more affordable after their rapid rise this year.

Sun Microsystems fell 3 1/2 to 57 7/8 on concern about plans to cut prices on some of its computer servers.

* Conrail fell 3/8 to 96 1/2 after it said it is talking with CSX about possibly raising the value of CSX's $8.5-billion merger offer. Conrail also rejected a sweetened $10-billion hostile offer from Norfolk Southern. CSX rose 1/4 to 44 7/8, and Norfolk Southern rose 3/8 to 88 1/8.

* Shares of Florida Panthers Holdings rose 1 to 11, or 10%, in their first day of trading on demand from smaller investors seeking a piece of the professional ice hockey team.

In the commodities market, supply concerns pushed oil and wheat prices higher.

At the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude oil and product prices shot higher on predictions for cold weather this week in the Northeast. Heating oil for December delivery settled up 2.95 cents at 71.20 cents a gallon, December unleaded gasoline rose 2.57 cents to 68.34 cents a gallon and December crude oil rose 77 cents at $24.12 a barrel.

The dollar showed a mixed performance in New York trading. The dollar was trading at 111.79 yen, up from 111.34 on Tuesday, and at 1.5037 German marks.

Overseas, Tokyo's Nikkei stock average fell 1.1%, Frankfurt's DAX index rose 1.4% and London's FTSE-100 fell 0.2%.

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