Midday Market Update: Leading Economic Indicator Index Points to Slower Growth

By Jennifer Yousfi
Managing Editor

A drop in gasoline prices coupled with more troubling economic indicators sent stocks down, erasing gains made in early morning trading.

At noon ET, the three major U.S. stock indices were narrowly mixed. The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average Index dropped 13.35 points (-0.11%), to trade at 12,413.91. The tech-laden Nasdaq Composite Index gained a half-point (0.02%), to reach 2,327.60. And the broader Standard & Poor's 500 Index lost 1.76 points (-0.13%), to settle at 1,358.27.

The basic materials, capital goods and technology sectors all posted gains, with the energy sector posting the largest decline. Shares of Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Chevron Corp. (CVX) declined.

The Conference Board reported today (Thursday) that its index of leading U.S. economic indicators slipped 0.1% in January. The index looks at several forward-looking indicators to try to determine future economic growth.

"The survey is gloomy indeed and suggests that if recession is avoided, it will be close," Ian Shepherdson of High Frequency Economics told MarketWatch.

Asian markets managed to reverse some of yesterday's losses and end the day up.  Japan's Nikkei Index rose 2.8% with a 377.91-point gain to close at 13,688.28.  Hong Kong's blue-chip Hang Seng Index posted a scant increase of 32.42 points to close at 23,623.00.

In Japan, metal mining shares posted large gains on near-record gold and surging copper prices, with Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. Ltd. seeing its largest single-day gain in a decade, Reuters reported. The surging prices do signal inflation concerns, but for the moment, most investors are seeking profits.

"Over the mid- and long-term this isn't a good thing, but today everyone's just focusing on what's in front of their eyes and trying to boost their profits," Noritsugu Hirakawa, a strategist at Okasan Securities (PINK:OKSCF), told Reuters.

In Europe, indices had gains in late afternoon trading including the Paris-based CAC40, Madrid's IBEX 35, the Frankfurt-based DAX and London's FTSE 100. Banks led the charge with BNP Paribas (OTC:BNPQY), Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC (RBS) and Deutsche Bank AG (DB) all posting gains.

At midday, the dollar had lost ground against the euro [down 0.608%], the yen [down 0.352%], and the pound sterling [down 0.776%].

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