Sun, Feb 01, 2004 - Page 10 News List

Weak GDP growth figures depress Wall Street


US stocks and the dollar fell on Friday after data showed fourth-quarter US economic growth was weaker than expected, while bond prices rose.

For stock investors and currency traders, the fourth-quarter GDP data was viewed as a glass perhaps half empty, while bond investors were reassured by a glass that was only half full.

GDP rose at a 4 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter of last year -- less than half the blistering 8.2 percent pace in the third quarter.

Economists had forecast a 4.8 percent gain.

Those numbers spelled relief in the US Treasury bond market, where traders have grown wary of positive surprises in economic data.

"The bond market took the GDP number positively," said Gary Thayer, chief economist at AG Edwards & Sons in St. Louis, Missouri. "It had expected stronger growth and some people may now be reminded that the Fed will not be quick to raise rates."

In the US Treasury bond market, the benchmark 10-year note rose 13/32 to 100 and 30/32, while its yield dropped to 4.13 percent from 4.18 percent on Thursday.

The dollar's two-day rally against the euro came to a halt, when the desire to take profits kicked in.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended down 22.22 points, or 0.21 percent, at 10,488.07. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 2.98 points, or 0.26 percent, to 1,131.13.

The technology-laced NASDAQ Composite Index slipped 2.08 points, or 0.10 percent, to 2,066.15.

"We all knew that Q3 couldn't last forever," said Lara Rhame, senior economist at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co, in New York.

"Four percent is going to feel like a disappointment compared to the consensus and compared to Q3," Rhame said. "But it is still a very respectable rate of growth and details show that the recovery is well on track, including solid growth, and private investment data."

Gold jumped back above US$400 an ounce after the weak GDP data sent the dollar down against the euro. Copper hit a six-and-a-half-year high after a strike at a big Chile mine.

In New York, oil ended just above US$33 a barrel.

In January, the Dow rose 0.3 percent, the S&P 500 gained 1.7 percent and the NASDAQ gained 3.1 percent.

According to the "January Barometer" devised by economist Yale Hirsch, stocks tend to follow for the year the direction set in January.

Only four times since 1950 have stocks ended the year lower after the S&P 500 gained in January.

But the trend on Friday and for the week was down.

For the week, the Dow fell 0.8 percent, the S&P 500 slipped 0.9 percent and the NASDAQ dropped 2.7 percent.

The weaker-than-expected GDP numbers for the fourth quarter gave people "an excuse to take profits," said Edgar Peters, chief investment officer at PanAgora Asset Management.

The GDP report was "just further evidence that people may have gotten ahead of themselves on thinking how good things were going to get."

On Friday, news of an unexpected loss at grocery chain Winn-Dixie Stores Inc and the suspension of its dividend weighed on the market.

Gilead Sciences Inc was another disappointment when sales of its key HIV drug, Viread, were reported to be not as strong as hoped.

That offset a jump in Gateway Inc, which said it would buy profitable competitor eMachines Inc.

Winn-Dixie fell after posting its loss, dropping US$2.53, or 28 percent, to US$6.56, making it the biggest percentage loser on the New York Stock Exchange.

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