Wall Street zigzagged through a listless session yesterday, closing mostly higher as a spate of acquisitions lifted the technology sector...
NEW YORK — Wall Street zigzagged through a listless session yesterday, closing mostly higher as a spate of acquisitions lifted the technology sector and energy prices extended their declines. The gains were limited by airline woes and worries about interest rates.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 4.38 to 10,682.94.
Microsoft, one of the 30 Dow stocks, added 3 cents to close at $26.61 a share. Boeing, also a Dow stock, fell 26 cents to $65.14.
Broader stock indicators were mixed. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 0.92 to 1,240.56, while the Nasdaq composite index climbed 7.32 to 2,182.83.
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Yesterday’s $12 billion in merger activity signaled optimism on Wall Street two weeks after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Gulf Coast threatened the U.S. economy, but the market treaded water while waiting to see if the Federal Reserve raises rates yet again at next week’s meeting. Analysts are split over the Fed’s action, with some saying policy-makers will stay on course while others think rates should stay unchanged to fend off an economic retreat.
Investors felt some relief as oil and gasoline futures sank, pulled lower by reports that efforts to resume production are progressing after Katrina brought much of the Gulf Coast to a standstill. A barrel of light crude fell 74 cents to $63.34 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, where gasoline futures also slipped 9 cents to $1.87 a gallon.
The tech sector rallied on news that software maker Oracle plans to acquire rival Siebel Systems and online auctioneer eBay is buying Internet-telephone firm Skype Technologies for a combined $8.45 billion. Wachovia also agreed to acquire car-financing firm Westcorp.
Wall Street has been speculating about the Fed’s rate policy, with many hoping the central bank will halt its string of 10 consecutive quarter-point raises to the nation’s benchmark interest rate in order to keep lending costs lower while the Gulf Coast rebuilds.
“I think we’re coming to the end of it,” Rick Meckler, president of Liberty View Capital Management, said of the Fed’s rate increases. “The rise of energy prices and the general impact of the hurricane would make it dangerous for the Fed to push rates higher and higher.”
But some analysts say the Fed has spelled out clearly its intention of boosting rates to balance growth and inflation, and that Fed governors will stay on course despite widespread fears that higher rates will restrict consumer spending.
“If the Fed doesn’t raise rates, it’s strictly for morale,” said Ed Peters, chief investment officer at PanAgora Asset Management. “Given the recent market swings, they’re going to go ahead with the increase. There will probably be two more hikes.”
Investors will get a glimpse of the nation’s economic health when the government reports several key indicators later this week, including price inflation, retail sales and trade balance. Peters, however, said much of that data will be brushed aside since it measures activity for the month of August, before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.