Stocks Edge Up as Bonds Rally; Nikkei Falls

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Wall Street closed mixed but mostly higher Thursday, as falling bond yields largely offset new worries about Asia.

The Dow industrials eased 16.19 points to 8,659.56 after trading as low as 8,611 early in the day, as mild profit-taking hit blue chips following two consecutive record closes.

But in the broad market winners edged losers on the New York Stock Exchange and on Nasdaq, and most key indexes inched up to new highs.

The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 1.45 points to a record 1,069.92; the Russell 2,000 index of smaller stocks added 0.65 point to a record 467.77.

The Dow closed above 8,600 for the first time this week, even after first-quarter earnings warnings last week from tech giants Intel, Compaq and Motorola.

"Most people [are] viewing it as a more isolated situation as opposed to broad, across techs or the market," said Charles Henderson, chief investment officer of Chicago Trust Co., which oversees $8 billion.

And after the close of trading on Thursday, software giant Oracle reported third-quarter earnings that beat estimates, saying sales of its database software had picked up after two disappointing quarters.

Still, for many major U.S. companies, "earnings expectations are still slowing," warned Judith Jones, a money manager at Key Asset Management, which oversees more than $20 billion.

"Our domestic economy is pretty healthy, which is the good side of the coin, but we're definitely a global economy," and Asia's economic woes will affect more U.S. companies, she said.

Concerns about Asia's outlook increased Thursday after the country's expanding financial scandal spread to the Bank of Japan.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei-225 stock index fell 180.92 points, or 1.1%, to 16,575.22, a two-week low.

Hong Kong's market fell in sympathy, with the Hang Seng index sliding 2% to 10,902.

In Europe, meanwhile, profit-taking shaved most markets, many of which have been hitting record highs in recent sessions.

But Wall Street was happy with the action in the U.S. bond market, where yields fell despite a strong retail sales report for February.

The yield on the bellwether 30-year Treasury bond sank from 5.94% on Wednesday to 5.86%, lowest since Feb. 19.

Traders said bonds rallied amid expectations that the February wholesale inflation report today will show prices falling last month.

"The market still feels the slowdown in economic activity is coming, and then there's the extraordinarily favorable inflation data," said Harvey Hirschhorn, who helps manage $20 billion at Stein Roe & Farnham in Chicago. "You put all that together and we get a bullish tone in the market," he said.

Among Thursday's highlights:

* Blue chips losing ground included Procter & Gamble, down $2.38 to $84.19; Colgate-Palmolive, down $2.38 to $85.44; Chevron, down $1.25 to $82.75; Alcoa, off 94 cents to $71.38; and GM, which eased $1.13 to $72.

* Many retail stocks continued to rally on optimism about consumer spending. Dayton Hudson jumped $1.44 to $83.94 after declaring a 2-for-1 stock split.

Other retail winners included Abercrombie & Fitch, up $2.50 to $42.06; Good Guys, up $1.94 to $8.56; and Federated Department Stores, up 69 cents to $50.38.

* PepsiCo shot up $2.75 to $43. A Merrill Lynch & Co. analyst upgraded his rating on the company to near-term "buy" from "neutral," saying growth at the company's Frito-Lay unit is poised to accelerate.

* Dole Food plunged $6.88 to $50.25 after saying that first-quarter earnings could be 50% below year-earlier levels because heavy rains caused by El Nino led to overproduction of bananas.

* Among new issues, CSK Auto surged $3.56 to $23.56 on the NYSE. The Phoenix-based company is the largest retailer of auto parts in the Western U.S.

Market Roundup, D6

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