Stocks barely moved Thursday as investors wondered whether a welter of weak economic data would end the Federal Reserve’s year-long streak of interest rate hikes.
Investors were displeased when the Philadelphia Federal Reserve reported a decline in almost every broad indicator it uses to measure the health of its region’s manufacturing. The readings “suggest little to no growth this month,” the report said.
The Labor Department reported lower-than-expected inflation data, but gasoline prices jumped by the largest amount in 2 1/2 years and unemployment filings spiked. Roughly 68,000 Americans filed for unemployment last week due to Hurricane Katrina, the largest increase in nearly a decade.
Traders hope signs of a weakening economy will cause the Federal Reserve to curb its year-plus streak of interest rate hikes when the central bank’s Open Market Committee meets next Tuesday.
“A lot of investors are in a wait-and-see mode until we get the Fed behind us next Tuesday,” said Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co. “There’s a real split between those who think the Fed will and should take a break and those who think it will continue” incremental rate hikes.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 13.85, or 0.13 percent, to 10,558.75.
Broader stock indicators were barely mixed. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.57, or 0.05 percent, to 1,227.73 and the Nasdaq composite index fell 3.18, or 0.15 percent, to 2,146.15.
Bonds fell sharply, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.21 percent from 4.16 percent late Wednesday. The U.S. dollar was mixed against other major currencies in European trading. Gold prices were lower.
Both Hogan and Chris Johnson, manager of quantitative analysis at Schaeffer’s Investment Research in Cincinnati, worried that some investors will be disappointed if the Fed raises rates next Tuesday.
“My fear here is that there truly are expectations that the Fed is done, that the game is over,” Johnson said. “I don’t think that’s going to be the situation.”
As a result, he said, “The boring market today, watching the paint dry, is the precursor to a little more weakness down the road.”
Crude oil futures fell. A barrel of light crude settled at $64.70, down 34 cents, in trading on the New York ercantile Exchange.
Declining issues led advancers by more than 8 to 7 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume was 1.49 billion, down from 1.50 million at the same time Wednesday.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 0.93, or 0.14 percent, to 665.42.
Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 1.19 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.68 percent, Germany’s DAX index fell 0.11 percent, and France’s CAC-40 rose 0.20 percent.
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