US stocks end mixed on downbeat economic readings

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke issued a sobering prediction that economic growth in much of 2008 is likely to be "sluggish."

money good 88 (photo credit: )
money good 88
(photo credit: )
SHARES WALL STREET Stocks finished mixed Friday as lackluster economic reports offered Wall Street little incentive to place big bets ahead of the three-day Presidents Day weekend. Disappointing data on manufacturing, consumer confidence and import prices reminded investors that the US economy is struggling. As a result, a week that began with a rally closed on a subdued note. A New York Federal Reserve survey on regional manufacturing indicated that conditions have deteriorated this month, while the preliminary Reuters/University of Michigan survey on consumer sentiment for February showed a marked decline from the prior month. A Labor Department's report found that import prices have jumped amid higher oil prices. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Thursday issued a sobering but not entirely unexpected prediction that economic growth in much of 2008 is likely to be "sluggish" before gathering strength later in the year. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 28.77, or 0.23%, to 12,348.21 on Friday. The blue-chip index ended the week with a gain of 1.36%. Broader stock indicators were mixed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index edged up 1.13, or 0.08%, to 1,349.99 to finish the week with a 1.40% gain. The technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index fell 10.74, or 0.46%, to 2,321.80 to close the week with an advance of 0.74%. EUROPE Stocks ended sharply lower, as worries about the health of banks, including Switzerland's UBS, combined with poor US economic data to send shares lower and largely wipe out the week's gains. The pan-European Dow Jones Stoxx 600 index dropped 2% to end at 317.36, with banks in particular dropping. But all sectors ended in negative territory after US data showed an increase in import prices and a big downturn in New York-area manufacturing activity. Shares in Swiss bank UBS dropped for a second day, losing 6.6% to end at lows not seen since April 2003. Citigroup analysts said they believe the group might need to write off another 12 billion Swiss francs ($10.9b.) to 20b. Swiss francs ($18.1 billion) in 2008 due to bigger-than-expected Alt-A mortgage exposure and other positions. The UK FTSE 100 index dropped 1.6% to 5,787.60, the French CAC-40 index fell 1.8% to 4,771.79 and the German DAX 30 index dipped 1.9% to 6,832.43. ASIA Most markets fell Friday after an overnight decline on Wall Street, but several major stock benchmarks recovered to finish off their lows. The Nikkei 225 stock index trimmed almost all of its early losses to finish at 13,622.60, down just 3.9 points, or 0.02%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index closed 0.5% higher at 24,148.40, after dropping as much as 2.4% in its morning session. CURRENCY The US dollar extended its slide against most major currencies after weak manufacturing data and consumer sentiment drove home Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's comments about a gloomy economy and the possibility of further interest rate cuts. The 15-nation euro rose to $1.4678 from $1.4633, but the dollar jumped higher against the pound. The British currency fell to $1.9603 from $1.9691. The dollar slipped to 107.69 Japanese yen from 107.93 yen, and rose to 1.0091 Canadian dollars from 99.99 Canadian cents. COMMODITIES Soybeans for May delivery soared to an all-time high of $14.045 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade before easing back on profit-taking to settle at $13.7375 a bushel, still up 5.75 cents. Soybean prices have surged 9.5% so far this year, buoyed by dwindling stockpiles and growing demand in China, the world's largest soybean buyer. On Thursday, China's agriculture minister said that bad winter storms had severely damaged 40% of the country's rapeseed crop - leading investors to bet the country will boost buying of soybeans to make up the shortfall. US exporters have already sold more than three-quarters of the soybeans the Agriculture Department predicts for the whole marketing year, which ends in June. Gold for April delivery lost $4.70 to settle at $906.10 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Light, sweet crude for March delivery inched up 4 cents to settle at $95.50 on the Nymex. Oil prices have risen more than $8 in little more than a week. March gasoline futures rose 1.77 cents to settle at $2.4938 a gallon on the Nymex, while March heating oil fell 1.97 cents to $2.6469 a gallon.