Updated from 1:05 p.m.
Stocks finished lower in a holiday-shortened session, following mixed economic figures and concerns over the first documented case of mad cow disease in the U.S, ending the
streak of six consecutive 19-month closing highs.
The Dow fell 36.07 points, or 0.4%, to 10,305.19; the
lost 1.98 points, or 0.2%, to 1094.04; and the
slipped 5.55 points, or 0.3%, to 1969.23, following a 1% gain yesterday.
Volume was very light today; 517 million shares traded on the
New York Stock Exchange
, while 638 million shares changed hands on the Nasdaq. Advancers vs. decliners were close to even on both markets.
"The mad-cow news is certainly hurting
, which is a Dow stock," said Ken Tower, chief market strategist at CyberTrader.
"The durable goods report is probably not having as large an impact as mad cow, because it is being offset by initial claims, which fell to nearly a three-year low," Tower said. He also pointed out that the durable-goods orders number is typically volatile.
The Department of Agriculture on Tuesday said that it had confirmed a case of mad cow disease in Washington State but that no tainted meat had entered the food supply. Several Asian countries already have blocked imports of U.S. beef, including Japan, the world's largest importer of U.S. beef. The news sent shares of several restaurant stocks downward.
Initial jobless claims fell by 1,000 to 353,000 in the week ended Dec. 20, which is slightly better than economists' expectations. Claims and the four-week moving average, which reduces volatility, have now spent three months under the key 400,000 level, which is thought necessary for labor market improvement.
Durable goods orders dropped unexpectedly by 3.1% in November, after a revised 4% gain in the previous month. Economists had expected a small increase of 1%.
In addition, new-home sales fell unexpectedly by 2.4% to 1.082 million units in November; economists had expected an uptick to 1.125 million.
The 10-year Treasury note rose 17/32, yielding 4.19%. The dollar fell to $1.2454 per euro, close to an all-time low; the U.S. currency was also weaker vs. the Japanese yen.
Markets overseas finished mixed. London's FTSE 100 gained 0.1% at 4445, and Japan's Nikkei fell fractionally to 10,371. Germany's Xetra DAX and Hong Kong's Hang Seng were both closed for the day.
On Tuesday, the Dow added 3.26 points, or 0.03%, to 10,341.26, closing at a new 19-month high for the sixth-straight session. The S&P 500 was up 3.08 points, or 0.3%, to 1096.02, also hitting a new 19-month high, and the Nasdaq rose 18.98 points, or 1%, to 1974.78.
In Wednesday research news, several brokerages are out with reports on the mad cow disease news. SG Cowen, for instance, noted that there was a case of the disease reported in Canada in May 2003 and restaurant stocks took a hit. It expects a similar reaction in stocks today.
Meanwhile, UBS research believes the reported case could be positive for restaurant stocks, saying that the negative publicity may not last long and that U.S. meat likely will be banned by importers, a move that could send prices down around 20%.
Feeling the pressure, shares of McDonald's slumped $1.41, or 5.6%, at $23.87.
said its beef supply was not affiliated with the meat plants where the disease was detected. Nevertheless, shares of the company dropped $1.57, or 4%, to $38.09.
Lone Star Steakhouse Saloon
dropped 70 cents, or 3%, to $22.53.
Also in the wake of the mad-cow scare, shares of research and clinical diagnostics company
climbed about 20% after it was upgraded by Robert W. Baird this morning to outperform from neutral, and its target price boosted to $73 from $54.
The brokerage believes the Hercules, Calif.-based company is the leader in testing for mad cow disease, with about 50% to 60% of worldwide market share. Shares of Bio-Rad were up $10.04 to $59.82.
In other research news, UBS upgraded shares of
to buy from neutral. Shares of the company advanced $1.20, or 2.3%, at $53.18.
Looking ahead, the equity markets are closed tomorrow for the Christmas holiday and close at 1 p.m. EST on Friday.
There are no major economic or earnings reports scheduled the rest of the week.