FINANCIAL NEWS

Stocks Little Moved Ahead of Earnings, Inflation Data

Stocks were little changed today as investors seemed to be laying low heading into a week that will bring a slew of key earnings reports from retailers and the latest data on inflation.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 11.23 points, or 0.11 percent, to 10,550.24. The Nasdaq was also higher, climbing 8.75 points, or 0.42 percent, to finish at 2,094.09. Only the S&P was lower and only slightly, dropping 0.36 points, or 0.03 percent to 1,183.81.

Stocks were lifted by further reductions in the price of oil. Crude futures fell 45 more cents in New York trading to close at $46.87 per barrel, the lowest closing price since late September.

Profit Taking, Mergers

Some profit taking after two straight weeks of strong gains for the markets — the S&P closed Friday at its highest level in nearly three years — might have kept the markets in check.

Investors were also digesting a number of major merger announcements, including a US$1.5 billion deal between food giant Kraft and the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. and a $520 million deal for Dow Jones & Co. to buy MarketWatch.

Investors may also be looking ahead to a week that will bring earnings from major retailers, reports that could give a strong indication of whether the upcoming holiday shopping season will be a boom or a bust. Wal-Mart and Home Depot both post results this week.

Inflation Figures

Also on the horizon are government numbers on inflation. The wholesale data is due to be released tomorrow, and the closely watched Consumer Price Index will be revealed on Thursday. Signs of significant inflation could dampen stock markets over worry about faster-than-expected interest rate hikes.

The U.S. dollar, which had traded at record low levels against the Euro last week, found some support after U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow gave a speech saying that the Bush administration supports policies to ensure a strong dollar.

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