US stocks fluctuate on manufacturing news

Investors trying to determine whether recent pessimism about the economy has been well-founded.

SHARES TEL AVIV The Tel Aviv-25 Index rose for the first time in four days, adding 4.17, or 0.4 percent, to 1,078.24 as 20 members gained and five dropped. Investors traded about NIS 1.82 billion in shares and convertible securities. Bank Hapoalim declined to the lowest in more than two years, retreating 4.5%. Bezeq rose for the first time in six days, increasing 1.6%. Danya Cebus dropped the most in four years, falling 20%. The construction company controlled by billionaire Lev Leviev's Africa Israel Investment expects a full-year loss of NIS 60 million to NIS 100m. Africa Israel retreated 2.1%. Delek Real Estate fell for a fourth day, losing 4.5%. The property company, which bought 12 Frankfurt supermarkets in December, raised NIS 550m. in a bond sale to fund new investments and refinance its debt. Given Imaging rose from a seven-day low, adding 4.5%. The maker of a camera in a capsule that diagnoses intestinal diseases said in a statement to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange that a study by Mayo Clinic researchers found its product was more effective in diagnosing celiac disease and detecting damage to the upper intestine than upper endoscopy. Nice Systems, a maker of digital-recording surveillance products, rose from a two-week low, gaining 1.2%. WALL STREET Stocks fluctuated Monday as investors digested a manufacturing report that was weak but not as bad as many on Wall Street had feared, and also absorbed another a disappointing construction sector report. Investors trying to determine whether recent pessimism about the economy has been well-founded or overwrought examined the Institute for Supply Management's index of US manufacturing activity. The reading came in at 48.3 - stronger than the 48.1 the market expected, according to Thomson Financial/IFR. However, the Commerce Department reported that construction spending in January fell by the steepest amount in 14 years. In early afternoon trading, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 36.23, or 0.30%, to 12,230.16. Broader stock indicators were mixed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.45, or 0.03%, to 1,331.08, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 6.08, or 0.27%, to 2,265.40. EUROPE European shares fell Monday as another sell-off in the dollar served to highlight fears about weakness in the US economy, although shares of aerospace and defense firm EADS bucked the bearish trend after it won a US government contract worth more than $35b. The pan-European Dow Jones Stoxx 600 Index fell 1.4% to 314.46, moving toward a low of 310.96 last seen on February 11. The German DAX 30 Index lost 0.9% to 6,689.95, the French CAC-40 Index fell 1% to 4,742.66 and the UK's FTSE 100 Index closed down 1.1% to 5,818.60. Financials were among the biggest decliners. Worries about the US economy and the value of securities tied to the housing market weighed on shares again, following sharp drops last week. Shares of Royal Bank of Scotland fell 4.1% and shares of Barclays declined 3.2%. ASIA Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index plunged 4.5% to close at 12,992.18. Markets in Hong Kong, South Korea, India and Australia also fell sharply, but shares in mainland China advanced. The dollar's drop to a three-year low against the yen also weighed on sentiment in Tokyo as dollar weakness erodes overseas earnings at Japan's key exporters. The dollar fell as low as 102.59 yen before recovering some to 103.10 yen, down from 103.96 yen late Friday in New York. Asian markets, which have fallen much of the year so far, had staged a modest recovery through the middle of last week, with Tokyo's Nikkei climbing to a seven-week high last Wednesday. But pessimism returned Monday, sending Hong Kong's Hang Seng index down 3.1% to close at 23,584.97. India's benchmark Sensex tumbled 5.3% to a provisional close of 16,639.54. CURRENCIES The shekel fell against the dollar as a military offensive in the Gaza Strip and a decline in the country's stocks reduced demand for the currency. It fell as much a 1% against the dollar to 3.67, and traded at 3.6353 by 5:34 p.m. in Tel Aviv, from 3.6335 on Friday. The dollar briefly fell to a historic low Monday on news that construction spending plummeted. The euro bought as much as $1.5266 earlier Monday but later gave up some gains and was trading at $1.5180 Monday afternoon. A series of Federal Reserve interest rate cuts has battered the dollar, which lost nearly 10% against the euro in 2007. Lower interest rates tend to weaken the dollar and prompt investors to shift resources into hard assets like gold, which is known for holding its value in times of rising inflation and economic uncertainty. COMMODITIES Gold prices moved within striking distance of $1,000 an ounce Monday, surging to another record after the dollar tumbled to an all-time low and crude oil surpassed its inflation-adjusted high. Silver extended recent gains to reach another 27-year high, while platinum also rose to a record. Other commodities advanced broadly, with soybean and corn futures both rising to new highs. Gold for April delivery jumped $12 to fetch $987 an ounce Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after earlier rising as high as $992 an ounce - feeding expectations that the metal will soon surpass the psychologically important $1,000 mark. Gold prices shot up nearly 32% in 2007 and are up more than 15% this year. The advance of precious metals has corresponded closely with rising crude oil prices, which jumped to an inflation adjusted record high Monday of $103.95 before easing back slightly. That's above the $103.76 a barrel that many analysts consider to be the true record high for oil, after its $38 barrel price from 1980 is translated into 2008 dollars. Light, sweet crude for April delivery pulled back slightly in afternoon trading, adding $1.64 to fetch $103.48 a barrel on the Nymex.