Sun, Nov 23, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Security fears, Iraq chaos take their toll on Wall Street

REUTERS , NEW YORK

Stocks and gold rose, but the dollar, government debt and oil struggled to find footing on Friday at the end of a week marked by deadly attacks in Turkey and rising tension in Iraq.

"There is a little bit of bargain hunting today with no economic data to feed on," said John Simon, stock index futures analyst at TradeSignals.com, a commodity trading adviser.

Rocket attacks on Friday shook hotels and the Oil Ministry in Baghdad, strikes linked to the US-led occupation of Iraq. On Thursday, stocks dropped amid rising security fears following twin bombings against British targets in Istanbul that left 27 dead.

On Wall Street, technology stocks nosed higher as investors tiptoed into the market, but Merck & Co Inc kept a lid on blue chips' gains after the giant drug company scrapped its second experimental medicine in 10 days.

The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 9.11 points, or 0.09 percent, to end at 9,628.53. The tech-laden NASDAQ Composite Index gained 11.96 points, or 0.64 percent, to finish at 1,893.88, based on the latest available figures. The broad Standard & Poor's 500 index inched up 1.63 points, or 0.16 percent, to close at 1,035.28.

Although the major US stock indexes managed to eke out gains on Friday, they finished the week lower. Both the Dow and the S&P 500 slipped 1.4 percent, while the NASDAQ fell 1.9 percent.

Merck was the Dow's biggest percentage loser, sinking US$2.93, or 6.5 percent, to US$42.23. The company, the world's third-largest drugmaker, discontinued its second experimental medicine in 10 days -- this time a diabetes drug found to cause cancer in mice.

COMEX gold rose after Canada's Barrick Gold Corp, long among the most active hedgers, said it was no longer committed to selling the metal forward to protect future production from falling prices.

The news underscored that the trend among producers to reduce their hedge books was still firmly in place. Along with the falling dollar, such "dehedging" has been a major factor in this year's bull market, which saw gold trade above US$400 for the first time since March 1996 on Wednesday.

"It should be absolutely bullish," said James Pogoda, vice president of precious metals at Mitsubishi International Corp. "I thought we would be a bit higher. Any time we've gotten close to US$400, it's been capped."

COMEX December gold surged US$2.30 to end at US$396.00 an ounce, rallying from a low of US$393.10, just before Barrick said it was changing its policy, to a session high at US$398.20.

The dollar was little changed after recovering from a downward blip related to a report of a new threat against the US and Japan.

Traders linked the currency's move to a report by a Saudi newspaper, Al-Majallah, that was picked up by several news agencies. Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the veracity of the reports.

"I think that it's just continuing with this theme that there's a lot of risks out there," said Lauren Germain, currency analyst at Bank of America in New York. "There wasn't much going on today, so any type of news was going to drive it."

Late Friday in New York, the euro was at US$1.1911, up slightly from US$1.910 at Thursday's US session close. The dollar slipped to ¥108.74 from ¥108.92 late Thursday in New York.

Treasury prices, meanwhile, strained to reach new highs for the week as safe-haven concerns and option-related flows dominated an otherwise aimless session.

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