Stocks end higher

Wednesday, January 2, 2002

AP Business WriterNEW YORK (AP) -- Wall Street investors began the new year cautiously Wednesday, putting off buying until the last hour of trading but still giving stocks a respectable advance.

While tech stocks traded higher for much of the day, blue chips suffered profit taking following weeks of gains. Part of investors' careful approach came from uncertainty over precisely when in 2002 business conditions will improve, analysts said.

A mixed economic report that said manufacturing activity shrank in December, although not as much as expected, failed to trigger an eariler upturn. Lighter trading volume due to the New Year's holiday also contributed to Wednesday's slow start.

"The manufacturing orders were favorable; they did give a bit of a boost to the market. But the market is wrestling with attempts to find a footing after a turbulent year and amid light trading," said Alan Ackerman, executive vice president of Fahnestock & Co.

The Dow Jones industrial average finished up 51.90, or 0.5 percent, at 10,073.40, after falling as much as 85 earlier, according to preliminary calculations. The Dow managed to end 2001 above 10,000 despite falling 115 points on Monday. The market was closed Tuesday for New Year's.

The broader market was also higher. The Nasdaq composite index rose 28.86, or 1.5 percent, to 1,979.26, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index advanced 6.59, or 0.6 percent, to 1,154.67.

Analysts said the market was pleased to hear the Institute of Supply Management, formerly known as the National Association of Purchasing Management, report its index of business activity rose to 48.2 in December from 44.5 in November. Analysts had been expecting a reading of 46. An index above 50 signifies growth in manufacturing, while a figure below 50 shows contraction.

But the report wasn't enough to immediately spur buying on a day when many traders were still on vacation.

Analysts also noted that stock indexes, substantially higher from the lows following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, have room to fall back as investors collect profits. The Dow ended 2001 up 21.7 percent over its Sept. 21 low of 8,235.81. The Nasdaq finished last year up 37 percent from its low; the S&P 500, up 18.9 percent.

Analysts also said Wednesday's early selling was also attributable to investors locking in profits before companies begin issuing first-quarter profit warnings. Companies are expected to start revising their estimates for the year's first three months starting next week.

"The market is going to be pretty choppy in January with (warnings). There are probably going to be a few unpleasant surprises," said Bill Barker, investment strategy consultant for Dain Rauscher.

AT&T rose 56 cents to $18.70 after Merrill Lynch raised its near-term rating on the stock to "buy" from "neutral."

Merck climbed 96 cents to $59.76, General Electric gained 87 cents to $40.95 and Ford advanced 50 cents to $16.22.

Retailers were weak after having suffered one of the worst holiday sales season in at least a decade. Kmart fell 72 cents to $4.74 after Prudential Securities reduced its rating on the discounter to "sell" from "hold."

The tech sector got a boost from chip makers, which rose on reports of higher prices. South Korea's Hynix Semiconductor, the world's third-largest memory chipmaker, has raised prices for its long-term customers for the third time in a month. Hynix, which also said demand for memory chips have steadily been rising with the introduction of Microsoft's new Windows XP operating system, is in talks with Micron Technology to form an alliance to cope with sagging chip prices.

Micron rose $2.24 to $33.24.

Chip makers also benefited from an upbeat report by the Semiconductor Industry Association, which said semiconductor sales rose 1.6 percent to $10.6 billion in November, the second straight month of growth.

Chip maker Intel advanced $1.55 to $33.

The Russell 2000 index, which reflects the performance of smaller company stocks, fell 1.31, or 0.3 percent, 487.19.

Declining issues narrowly outnumbered advancers 16 to 15 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was lighter than normal.

Overseas, Japan's financial markets were closed for the New Year's holiday, and will reopen Friday.

In Europe, stocks were mixed and investors were cautious following Tuesday's debut of the euro, Europe's new single currency. France's CAC-40 finished down nearly 1 percent, while Britain's FT-SE 100 eked out a gain of 0.02 percent and Germany's DAX index gained 0.2 percent.

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