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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Stocks fall despite economic report

Associated Press

Stocks slogged through a disappointing session Thursday, finishing modestly lower as investors consolidated their holdings despite solid corporate earnings reports and the biggest drop in consumer prices in 56 years.

Tumbling gasoline prices pushed November’s consumer price index down 0.6 percent, the biggest one-month decline since July 1949, according to the Labor Department. Investors considered the drop a good omen for the holiday shopping season. Core CPI, with food and fuel prices removed, rose a modest 0.2 percent, in line with economists’ forecasts.

With the Federal Reserve closely watching inflation, the CPI figures bode well for future interest rates. “This gives the Fed a lot more flexibility, a little more elbow room in figuring out when to stop raising rates,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago. “Continuing stable inflation figures like the ones we saw today helps everybody.”

Yet investors remained unconvinced, selling off riskier small-cap stocks, along with technology and energy shares that led the November rally, and moving to larger, more established companies — apparently hedging their bets against Wall Street’s now-traditional January letdown.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 1.84, or 0.02 percent, to 10,881.67.

Broader stock indicators also moved lower. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 1.80, or 0.14 percent, to 1,270.94, and the Nasdaq composite index lost 1.96, or 0.09 percent, to 2,260.63.

Bonds moved lower, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.47 percent from 4.45 percent late Wednesday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices dropped. Oil prices fell below $60 per barrel, with a barrel of light crude settling at $59.99, down 86 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

High energy prices have not hurt the nation’s industrial sector. The Federal Reserve said the nation’s industrial output rose 0.7 percent in November following a 1.3 percent rise in October. Industrial production had plunged by 1.6 percent in September because of the economic disruption caused by the Gulf Coast hurricanes.

Inflation remained on the minds of many investors. Core CPI continued to rise, and energy prices are still at historically high levels for this time of year.

“We’re not out of the woods on some of these inflationary pressures,” said Jack Caffrey, equities strategist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank. “And with it being the end of the year, you have some selling going on before liquidity dries up before the holidays.”

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by about 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where preliminary consolidated volume came to 2.21 billion shares, compared to 2.22 billion traded on Wednesday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 5.76, or 0.83 percent, to 684.74.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average tumbled 1.36 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 closed down 0.47 percent, France’s CAC-40 slipped 0.04 percent for the session, and Germany’s DAX index rose 0.17 percent.