November 29, 2004

Stocks Move Higher on Decent Retail Sales

NEW YORK - Decent retail sales during the first weekend of holiday shopping sent stocks higher Monday as investors grew more confident about the economy.

Not all the news was good - Wal-Mart Stores Inc., a Dow component, lowered its sales estimates based on a slower-than-expected weekend, and some retail analysts said this year's spending was only modestly better than the year before.

However, other retailers reported solid gains, and Visa USA Inc. said use of its credit and debit cards rose 15.5 percent compared to last year. That was enough to assure investors that consumer spending, a large part of the overall U.S. economy, was still strong.

In the first hour of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 23.87, or 0.2 percent, to 10,546.10.

Broader stock indicators were moderately higher. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 2.52, or 0.2 percent, at 1,185.17, and the Nasdaq composite index gained 11.30, or 0.5 percent, to 2,113.27.

Investors were further assuaged by stabilizing crude oil futures. A barrel of light crude was quoted at $49.40, down 4 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The dollar also rose from last week's record lows against other currencies.

Wal-Mart's disappointing retail report stemmed from the fact that the discount retail giant didn't make as many holiday price cuts as many of its competitors, and investors were not pleased with the results. Wal-Mart tumbled $1.56 to $53.76.

Other retailers fared better in holiday sales, but many remained under pressure on Wall Street due to Wal-Mart's report. Target Corp. slipped 46 cents to $51.75, J.C. Penney & Co. climbed 15 cents to $40.71, Sears Roebuck & Co. lost 55 cents to $53.75, and Kmart Holding Corp. fell 68 cents to $106.71.

Apple Computer Inc. surged $4.40, or 6.82 percent, to $68.95 after Merrill Lynch analysts said holiday sales of its iPod music player will give the computer and electronics company a strong boost. Merrill Lynch raised its price target on Apple to $77 from $66 per share.

IBM Corp. and Sony Corp. have collaborated on a new semiconductor specifically designed for home entertainment products, according to The Wall Street Journal. The two companies are reportedly ready to announce a limited production run for the chip, the newspaper said. IBM rose 49 cents to $95.21, while Sony gained 51 cents to $36.48.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was up 2.42, or 0.4 percent, at 633.58.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 1.33 percent. In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE 100 was up 0.77 percent, Germany's DAX index surged 1.21 percent, and France's CAC-40 gained 0.96 percent.


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