Sun, Jun 04, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Wall Street digests signs that economy could start cooling

AFP , NEW YORK

Wall Street muddled through the past week to a mixed finish as the market digested unmistakable signs of a cooling US economy and tried to anticipate the Federal Reserve response.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.27 percent over the holiday-shortened week to finish at 11,247.87 while the tech-heavy NASDAQ rose 0.41 percent to 2,219.41.

The broad-market Standard & Poor's 500 advanced 0.63 percent to 1,288.22.

The market was still licking its wounds over a dreadful performance for last month, which left investors cautious.

The Dow blue-chip index fell 1.8 percent for the month, with the S&P 500 off 3.1 percent and the NASDAQ tumbling 6.2 percent.

The main indexes remain in positive territory for the year, but just barely.

Wall Street is forced to come to grips with a cooling US economy -- decelerating perhaps faster than anticipated. That was evidenced by the weak pace of job creation for last month -- 75,000 instead of the 175,000 expected by the market.

"Weaker-than-expected employment and the downward revision to Aprils gains suggest that the economic slowdown is in place," said John Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia Securities. "How much and how rapid remains an issue."

Investors remain on edge despite the cooling economy because inflation data has been hotter than expected.

This raises fears that the US Federal Reserve will continue to lift rates after 16 consecutive hikes, which could put a squeeze on economic growth and profits.

"Investors know that the biggest risk to a bull market is that the Fed will be seduced into raising short-term interest rates too high and ending the bull market and ending the recovery," said Hugh Johnson, chairman of Johnson Illington Advisors.

"Investors are very worried that the Federal Reserve is making that age-old mistake," Johnson said.

After fretting over inflation, investors' concerns have shifted somewhat, said Dick Green at Briefing.com.

This combination of slowing growth with rising inflation puts the Fed in a new conundrum as it debates the course of action for its next meeting on June 29.

"It puts them in a bit of a quandary, because the economy is slowing but core inflation is still running a little high," said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at Global Insight.

"Our bottom line is that the economy is cooling, inflation is probably not a problem, but that the Fed -- for credibility reasons -- will probably have to go one more round" of rate increases, Behravesh said.

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