Dow Is Off for 3rd Day Amid Fears

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Stocks closed lower for the third day in a row Friday as investors cashed in profits in the final days of the first quarter, which has been a strong period for the market.

The Dow Jones industrial average ended down 50.81 points at 8,796.08. For the week, it was off 110.35 points after posting a 304-point gain the previous week.

In the broad market, declining issues led advances 1,563 to 1,311 on moderate volume of 582 million shares on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Nasdaq composite index was off 4.92 points at 1,823.62, snapping a three-day string of record highs.

Investors were also unnerved by talk of an interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve.

"It's caution," said Charles Payne of Wall Street Securities. "April was a pretty rough month last year, and we are probably in for the same again this year.

"The whispers are there is going to be a rate hike soon," he said. "When people are worried they don't buy, and the market is susceptible to quick pullbacks."

The Federal Reserve's policy-setting committee meets on Tuesday to weigh monetary policy.

Bonds rose as the dollar rallied, rising to 130.33 yen from 128.29 Thursday, amid signs that Japan's bank sector remains in critical condition and growing doubts Tokyo will take steps needed to prop up its economy.

Credit agency Standard & Poor's cut its ratings on four major Japanese banks, prompting talk that some Japanese financial institutions might go bankrupt in the coming weeks.

"There was a big move in the dollar, and that's important to the bond market at this point," said Ben Mayer, who manages $1.3 billion in bonds at AMR Investments in Fort Worth.

The benchmark 30-year Treasury bond price rose 0.19, or $1.88 per $1,000 bond, to 102.41, pushing its yield down 0.1 basis points to 5.96% from 5.97% Thursday.

The Dow stumbled at the start of the week on news of a pact to cut oil supplies to boost prices. That deal is due to be ratified at Monday's emergency meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, but there is doubt that the agreement can keep oil prices from resuming their slide.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude oil lost 7 cents to $16.76, but that was up $2.15 from the previous Friday's close. Fears of rising oil prices in a still-humming U.S. economy rekindled worries about rate hikes, analysts said.

The star among Friday's blue chips was McDonald's, which closed up $2 at $57.38. The fast-food giant announced plans Thursday to reorganize its struggling U.S. operations.

Pfizer gained $1.38 to close at $95.75. The stock has rallied in recent sessions in anticipation of regulatory approval, granted Friday, for its Viagra impotence drug.

The Standard & Poor's composite index of 500 stocks fell 5.36 points to 1,095.44. The American Stock Exchange index was off 1.66 points to 738.33.

The NYSE Composite index of all listed common stocks fell 2.41 points to 569.80. The average share was down 20 cents.

Among Friday's market highlights:

* Columbia Sportswear jumped $3.94 to $21.94 in its public debut. The outdoor-apparel maker offered 5.6 million shares at 18.

* FPA Medical Management fell $1.94 to $16.69. The physician-practice management company's new chief executive, Stephen Dresnick, said he will slow its expansion through acquisitions, which has made it tough for investors to evaluate the company's financial performance. Dresnick succeeds Seth Flam, who resigned Thursday.

* PolyGram fell $1.75 to $47 after the Dutch entertainment company's warning Thursday that slipping music sales would drag first-quarter earnings per share "sharply lower" than last year's quarter.


Market Roundup, D4

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