Originally created 09/13/03

Stocks edge higher despite downbeat retail sales



NEW YORK -- A burst of late-day buying lifted Wall Street modestly higher Friday despite a lackluster retail sales report and disappointing sales of new software licenses by Oracle Corp. Still, the gains weren't enough as the market ended a four-week winning streak.

Analysts said investors decided to take advantage of some bargains after the Dow Jones industrials lost as much as 78.81 earlier in the day.

"Generally speaking, people are optimistic, but we're now at valuations that are appropriate as long as the economic and profit picture continue to improve as they have been," said Susan L. Malley, chief investment officer for Malley Associates Capital Management in New York.

"As we move into the earnings preannouncement season, people are standing pat in case there are any bad surprises," she said.

The Dow finished up 11.79, or 0.1 percent, to 9,471.55, having gained 39 points the previous session.

Broader indicators also turned higher. The Nasdaq composite index rose 8.94, or 0.5 percent, to 1,855.03. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 2.21, or 0.2 percent, to 1,018.63.

For the week, Dow fell 0.3 percent, the Nasdaq declined 0.2 percent and the S&P lost 0.3 percent. The Nasdaq and S&P ended a four-week winning streak, while the Dow fell after five weeks of gains.

Stocks were sluggish for most of the session but edged higher late in the day. A report Friday morning on retail sales for August came in below analysts' expectations, contributing to pessimism about the economy's prospects for a turnaround.

But traders had other good news about the economy to focus on. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that economists polled in a monthly survey predicted the economy will have grown in the second half of the year at the fastest rate in four years.

Stocks have been choppy over the past week as investors commemorated the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and wondered whether the market's six-month rally might have come too fast, too soon. Analysts say the earnings warning season, which begins in earnest next week, will likely give investors guidance on the strength of the economic recovery.

"The market is now getting focused on every single one of the economic numbers," said Janet Engels, director of Private Client research group at RBC Dain Rauscher. "The equity markets have moved up, and therefore the market wants to see that things are clearly improving on both the consumer and business side."

Winners included Qualcomm Inc., which rose $1.82 to $42.82, after Merrill Lynch & Co. raised the telecom company's stock rating to "buy" from "neutral."

Microsoft Corp. gained 50 cents to $28.34 after the software company said it was doubling its annual dividend to 16 cents a share.

Oracle dropped 43 cents to $12.55 after the business software maker reported quarterly profit and revenue that met analysts' expectations; however, sales of new software licenses fell by 6 percent.

Janus Capital Group Inc. fell $1.38 to $14.50 after Merrill Lynch lowered the mutual fund firm's rating to "neutral" from "buy," citing uncertainty after state and federal regulators announced an investigation into Janus and other firms for potentially improper trading.

Advancing issues surpassed decliners 4 to 3 on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated volume was light at 1.55 billion shares, compared with 1.71 billion traded Thursday.

The Russell 2000 index, which tracks smaller company stocks, rose 1.63, or 0.3 percent, to 509.06.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average finished 1.6 percent higher Friday. In Europe, France's CAC-40 fell 0.8 percent, Britain's FTSE 100 declined 0.1 percent and Germany's DAX index dropped 1.7 percent.

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