Last updated: January 31, 2013 6:33 pm

Mixed economic data weigh on Wall St

US stocks finished lower as investors took some profits on Thursday and weighed new economic data that continued to show mixed forecasts for important segments of the US economy.

The S&P 500 lost 0.3 per cent to 1,498.11 in New York to fall back below the psychologically significant 1,500 mark.

Despite the decline, the benchmark finished with a 5 per cent gain for the month, marking its best January since 1997.

The day’s trading began to fresh labour market data that showed an unexpectedly large pick-up in the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits last week. Investors have been monitoring labour market data closely this week ahead of Friday’s non-farm payrolls report.

The losses for stocks followed a similar slump on Wednesday after reports said the US economy shrunk 0.1 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year.

Elsewhere, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.4 per cent to 13,860.58. The Nasdaq Composite index closed marginally lower at 3,142.13.

Paul Zemsky, head of asset allocation for ING Investment Management, said: “I’m not too worried about the recent data, we’re just experiencing a pause after a fairly big run for the first month of the year.”

He added: “Unless payrolls on Friday come in much worse than forecast, I think we’ll see some consolidation and then continue to move higher.”

Companies reporting fourth-quarter results on Thursday also were mixed.

Dow Chemical lost 7 per cent to $32.20 as the US manufacturing group said net profits for 2012 fell by a quarter due to a slowdown in the world economy during the second half of last year. The company said its results were particularly set back by weakness in China, the world’s second-largest economy.

Despite the poor results, Hassan Ahmed at Alembic Global Advisors said shares in the company were attractively valued as it was positioned to grow earnings in the medium-term.

UPS declined 2.4 per cent to $79.29 after the US package delivery company said its quarterly results were hurt by a weaker-than-expected US holiday season.

Blackstone shares rose 6.1 per cent to $18.50 as the asset manager said net profits rose 43 per cent in the fourth quarter.

Shares in Facebook regained most of their losses after falling as much as 6 per cent. The social networking site reported late on Wednesday that fourth-quarter net profits topped analysts’ estimates. But investors tempered their views on the company’s performance for 2013, citing increased research and development spending. Facebook closed 0.9 per cent lower to $30.97.

Information technology and telecom sector stocks were the only two industry groups on the S&P 500 trading in positive territory for the day.

The gains for telecoms came as losses at BlackBerry dragged into a second consecutive session after the company, which changed its name from Research in Motion, unveiled its latest smartphone. BlackBerry shares lost 5.8 per cent to $12.98.

Analysts at UBS said they did not expect the company’s new smartphone to win over many existing customers from Apple and Google . “The devices may appeal to some highly productive enterprise users and chief information officers, but we believe uptake will be measured,” they said.

Qualcomm shares jumped 3.9 per cent to $66.03 as the world’s biggest chipmaker for handsets continued to profit from the increased adoption of smartphones among consumers.

Time Warner Cable shares slumped 11.3 per cent to $89.34 after its 2013 earnings forecast was below estimates.

JDS Uniphase climbed 17 per cent to $14.51 as the broadband equipment maker reported estimate-beating quarterly results.

Bourse operator Nasdaq OMX reported stronger-than-expected net profits for its fourth-quarter early on Thursday, and shares in the company rose 1.6 per cent to $28.41.

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