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Stocks end seesaw trading day mostly higher

Wall Street closed mostly higher Monday as investors appeared relieved that more bad news didn’t emerge about risky mortgages and shrinking credit markets. Investors seeking safety pressed into shorter-term Treasurys.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Wall Street closed mostly higher Monday as investors appeared relieved that more bad news didn’t emerge about risky mortgages and shrinking credit markets. Investors seeking safety pressed into shorter-term Treasurys.

Stocks endured back-and-forth trading following a rally Friday, which came in response to the Federal Reserve’s decision to lower its discount rate. The Fed said Friday it stood ready to make further moves to keep credit and stock market losses from hurting the economy, but because it stopped short of a cut in the more important federal funds rate, uncertainty lingered on Wall Street about policymakers’ intentions. The Fed is not scheduled to meet formally until Sept. 18, which means investors could remain jittery until then.

Brian Levitt, corporate economist at OppenheimerFunds Inc., said the Fed’s move, while helpful, won’t erase all the market’s unease.

“Fed action certainly doesn’t make unsound credit sound. It allows some confidence for the higher quality deals to get done. It’s more psychological. It provides confidence that the Fed will be a stopgap and a lender of last resort.”

Treasury bonds, which have rallied in recent weeks as investors fled to safe-haven securities, continued their move higher Monday. Because bond prices move opposite their yields, the benchmark 10-year Treasury bond yields fell to 4.65 percent from 4.68 late Friday, while the shorter-duration notes such as the 3-year T bill saw yields fall sharply.

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrials finished up 42.27, or 0.32 percent, at 13,121.35, after seeing 100-point swings higher and lower.

Broader indexes were mixed. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index slipped 0.39, or 0.03 percent, to 1,445.55; the Nasdaq composite index rose 3.56, or 0.14 percent, to 2,508.59.

Monday’s erratic trading wasn’t unexpected; analysts had questioned how much conviction buyers had on Friday, as much of the rally was pinned on big institutional investors like hedge funds buying shares to cover their positions. Some investors had been shorting the market — betting stocks would move lower — and were caught off guard when the central bank cut the discount rate.

“There’s a lot of uncertainties out there,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at New York-based brokerage house Avalon Partners. “The question is if the Fed did enough to satisfy the markets. Wall Street will be relentless until they cut the fed funds rate.”

At the market open Monday, the Fed also announced it injected another $3.5 billion into the banking system. The central bank has infused the market with nearly $120 billion of liquidity in recent weeks.

Light, sweet crude fell 90 cents to $71.08 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Investors have been wary as Hurricane Dean has moved toward Mexico, where major oil companies have already begun battening down oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

The dollar was mixed against major currencies, while gold prices rose.

This week will be light on economic reports, which makes it a bit more difficult for investors to assess what the Fed might do at its rate-setting meeting. In one economic reading that arrived Monday, the Conference Board said its gauge of future economic activity moved slightly higher in July.

The research group’s index of leading economic indicators rose 0.4 percent in July, as analysts expected. The index fell 0.3 percent in June, after rising 0.2 percent in May. The report is designed for forecast economic activity over the next three to six months.

With earnings season mostly wrapped up, there was little in the way of corporate news for investors to go by. August is typically one of the slowest periods for equities markets.

Thornburg Mortgage Inc. fell $1.54, or 10.2 percent, to $13.50 after the company said it sold $20.5 billion of its safest investments to raise enough cash to allow the mortgage lender to operate amid a crisis in the mortgage industry.

Among the sectors holding the market back was financial stocks, which spiked on Friday after the Fed announcement. The downtrodden sector stands to benefit from the Fed’s discount rate cut. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. fell $2.24 to $172.76, while Citigroup Inc. dropped 42 cents to $48.39.

Lowe’s Cos., the No. 2 U.S. home improvement chain, reported a second-quarter profit that surpassed Wall Street projections. Despite the slumping housing market, the company said it will open 40 stores during the current quarter, and believes sales will rise 6 percent for the year. Lowe’s shares rose $1.63, or 6.1 percent, to $28.50.

Advancing issues outweighed decliners by about 3 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume fell to 1.54 billion shares — typical of an August session — from a heavy 2.48 billion shares traded Friday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 1.42, or 0.18 percent, to 787.45.