Updated from 4:07 p.m. EST
Stocks swerved to a mixed close Thursday, with blue-chip stocks surviving another spike in crude oil thanks to strong retail returns and positive economic data.
Dow Jones Industrial Average
rose 21.06 points, or 0.19%, to 10,833.03. The blue-chip index has been flirting with its 2004 and 2005 closing highs since Wednesday. The
rose 0.39 point, or 0.03%, to 1210.47, while the
fell 9.10 points, or 0.44%, to 2058.40.
Closing volume on the
New York Stock Exchange
was 1.62 billion shares, with advancers beating decliners by a ratio of 6 to 5. Volume on the Nasdaq was 1.90 billion shares, with decliners beating advancers 8 to 7.
In other markets, the 10-year Treasury note was unchanged in price to yield 4.38%, while the dollar climbed against the yen and euro.
"You've seen this divergence for a couple weeks now, in terms of money flowing into the larger-cap Dow stocks away from the more speculative Nasdaq," said Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist with Windham Financial Services. "Usually this is based on fears out there, as large investors are putting money into safer areas. The sectors that have been driving the market, like oil, tend to be larger corporations that aren't on the Nasdaq. The sector rotation and the strength in oil tends to favor the Dow and the S&P 500 and not the Nasdaq."
Strengthening sectors Thursday included energy, airlines and drugs, while semiconductors, biotech, telecom and retail weakened.
Oil was a drag again, rising 52 cents to close at $53.57 in Nymex trading, moving closer to its record high of $55.17 set last October. The spike occured after OPEC's Secretary General said Thursday that oil prices rising to $80 a barrel over the next two years is highly unlikely, but still a possibility.
"The market was stalling even before crude spurted," said Phillip Roth, chief technical market analyst with Miller Tabak & Co. "The Dow was right up against its previous high for the cycle, and the S&P 500 came within a few points as well. You'll have some traders selling as it approaches the high, believing there is resistance at those levels. The market may go down, but we can regroup and hopefully break through."
Part of the anxiousness is the release of February's nonfarm payroll data Friday morning. The consensus is for payrolls to rise by 225,000, up from the 146,000 gain last month, but economists have rarely been close in their forecasting. February's unemployment rate is expected to come in at 5.2%, unchanged from the previous month.
"It looks like we're continuing to have growth without a surge in inflation," said Edgar Peters, chief investment officer with Pan Agora. "Hopefully the
will be able to keep the same pace in regards to increasing interest rates. Towards the end of the day, people may wait as they often do before the nonfarm payroll numbers come out tomorrow."
Economic data released Thursday showed jobless claims for the week ended Feb. 26 fell 1,000 to 310,000, in line with economists' projections. The less-volatile four-week moving average fell 1,500 to 307,000. The government also posted revised fourth-quarter productivity and unit labor costs; productivity was revised up to 2.1%, while unit labor costs were revised down to 1.3%. Economists had expected rates of 1.4% and 1.6%, respectively.
The Institute for Supply Management said its nonmanufacturing -- or services -- index rose to 59.8 in February. Economists had expected an increase to 60.0 from 59.2 in the previous month.
A closely watched gauge of semiconductor demand showed global chip sales fell slightly in January compared with December. The Semiconductor Industry Association said worldwide microchip sales totaled $18.3 billion in January compared with $18.4 billion a month earlier. The Philadelphia semiconductor index lost 1.3%, with 19 of its 20 components ending lower, following recent gains this week.
"The excess inventories that slowed growth in the second half of 2004 have been largely depleted," the group said in a release. "In some market segments, inventories are now below target levels, thus we are confident that inventory issues will not be a significant factor in semiconductor sales beyond the first quarter."
The Wall Street Journal
reported Thursday that
, the second-largest oil company in the U.S., is considering an acquisition offer for smaller rival
. No price was mentioned, and the companies declined to comment on the offer. Unocal had a market capitalization of about $14 billion at Wednesday's close. Shares of Unocal jumped $6.60, or 12.3%, to close at $60.10, while shares of ChevronTexaco finished down 38 cents, or 0.6%, to $61.19.
Thursday was retail sales day, when most of the nation's major chain stores report same-store results for February.
The biggest retailer,
, reported better-than-expected same-store sales growth of 4.1% in February compared with a year ago. The discount giant also said March comps should be as good or better than February's. Thursday afternoon, the company raised its annual dividend by 15% to 60 cents per share. Shares added 91 cents, or 1.8%, to $52.86.
An early feature of the February numbers has been strong performance by specialty retailers. Wednesday night, women's clothier
reported same-store sales growth of 9.2% for the month, beating estimates. The company also said fourth-quarter earnings rose 29% from a year ago to $33 million, or 18 cents a share, matching estimates before a charge. Still, Chico's closed down $1.14, or 3.8%, to $28.55.
Other specialty chains reporting solid numbers included
said same-store sales surged 9% in February, beating the company's internal long-term target for 3% to 7%. Shares added 78 cents, or 1.5%, to $53.59.
A day after reporting better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings and strong February same-store sales,
was downgraded by brokerage Harris Nesbitt to neutral from outperform on valuation. Shares were off 97 cents, or 1.7%, to finish at $57.90.
Abercrombie & Fitch
fell despite reporting a 19% increase in February same-store sales. The company also said total sales for the period increased 33% to $159.9 million. Shares of Abercrombie & Fitch lost 88 cents, or 1.6%, to $55.69.
The health care sector received a boost when Deutsche Bank raised its sector rating to overweight, while the Food and Drug Administration approved a new label revision for
cholesterol-fighting drug Crestor. The agency's advisory included some revisions in the drug's label, telling doctors to start some patients at lower doses and to check certain medical conditions before prescribing Crestor. Shares of AstraZeneca gained $1.38, or 3.5%, to $41.34.
said it expects fourth-quarter earnings to be at the low end or below its initial projection of $1.56 to $1.66 a share. The company blames increased discounts on merchandise. The company also reported same-store sales rose 2.8% in the fourth quarter. Shares lost $1.51, or 2.8%, to $52.40.
jumped early Thursday after a lawsuit against the company was dismissed. Shares rose 72 cents, or 5.3%, to finish at $14.22.
In other brokerage action, CIBC cut its sector rating on metals to market weight from overweight. CIBC believes that with economic growth slowing and the U.S. dollar stabilizing, the momentum of the metal market will slow.
However, the brokerage upgraded both
, as it expects greater returns from both, relative to other companies in the sector. Still, Alcoa shares lost 2 cents, or 0.1%, to $31.28, while Alcan shares added 26 cents, or 0.7%, to close at $39.38.
Raymond James initiated coverage of
as a strong buy with a share price target of $42. The brokerage believes that the drilling services company will benefit from improving rates for its rigs. Shares gained $2.05, or 8.3%, to $26.69.
Overseas markets were mostly higher, with London's FTSE 100 finishing up 0.4% to 5014 and Germany's Xetra DAX down 0.5% at 4373. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei rose 0.4% overnight to 11,856, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.3% to 13,892.