msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/25/2004 8:08:57 AM ET 2004-10-25T12:08:57

Worried investors sent stocks down sharply Friday, as crude oil futures topped $55 per barrel and tepid earnings from Microsoft Corp. and the Coca-Cola Co. offset a strong third-quarter profit report from Google Inc.

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The Dow Jones industrial average fell sharply in the final hour of trading, finishing the session down 107.95 points, or 1.1 percent, and setting a new closing low for the year, while the broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index lost 10.75 points, or 1 percent. The tech-rich Nasdaq composite index fell 38.48 points, or 2 percent.

Oil prices continued to pressure the market Friday, casting doubt not only on fourth-quarter earnings, but also on the health of the economy as a whole. A barrel of light crude was quoted at $55.17, up 70 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

“These oil prices are really going to bite the consumer at some point. Heating oil is up, it’s supposed to be a very cold winter in the Northeast, and lower and middle income people are going to pay,” said Russ Koesterich, U.S. equity strategist at State Street Corp. “Combine that with a total lack of fundamentals in the big name stocks, and there are very few places left to hide for investors.”

A bright spot was Google. Its shares surged in early trading as the online search giant doubled both revenues and profits from a year ago. Like its initial public offering two months ago, Google was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise nervous market.

Stocks ended mostly lower for a third straight week, as the continued rise in oil prices and middling earnings sapped confidence from investors. With major economic reports, including the first reading of the third quarter’s gross domestic product, and the U.S. presidential election looming, investors are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the stock market.

Google’s earnings impressed analysts, with Prudential raising the company’s target stock price to $200 early Friday. Google skyrocketed $23.05, or 15.4 percent to $172.43, but other major technology stocks stole any momentum Google might have generated.

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“You’ve got one darling here surrounded by a bunch of less-than-hopefuls, and that’s not going to boost anything other than the darling,” said Bryan Piskorowski, market analyst at Wachovia Securities. “With oil up and nobody really stepping out with earnings other than Google, we’re sliding here.”

Dow component Microsoft slipped 82 cents to $27.74 after beating Wall Street estimates by 2 cents per share before one-time charges. Analysts were concerned about a drop-off in long-term contract revenues, a possible sign that demand for the company’s software was waning as companies waited for a long-delayed update of the Windows operating system.

Online retailer Amazon.com Inc. missed its third-quarter earnings forecasts by a penny per share, even as the company saw its profits triple from a year ago. A disappointing 2005 sales outlook further disappointed investors. Amazon.com tumbled $4.87, or 12.3 percent, to $34.60.

Coca-Cola, also a Dow component, slid 58 cents to $38.90 after posting a 24 percent drop in quarterly profits on flat revenues. However, the soft-drink giant managed to beat reduced Wall Street estimates by 3 cents per share.

Fast-food operator Wendy’s International Inc. posted a 4 percent rise in its third-quarter profits, but issued a lower outlook for its full 2004 results. Wendy’s was up 93 cents at $32.73.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 0.63 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 closed down 0.04 percent, France’s CAC-40 lost 0.01 percent for the session, and Germany’s DAX index gained 0.03 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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