Stocks End Mixed on Retail Woes, Drop in Oil Prices

U.S. stock markets closed mixed today, as the positive impact of another sharp plunge in oil prices was countered by weak retail data.

The Dow finished lower by 5.10 points, or 0.05 percent, to 10,585.12. The Nasdaq was the only major index to finish in positive territory, gaining 5.34 points, or 0.25 percent, to 2,143.57. The S&P 500 was lower by 1.04 points, or 0.09 percent, to 1,190.33.

If the previous session was any guide, stocks should have soared after oil prices tumbled once again, losing more than US$2 more in New York trading. Crude futures closed at $43.25 per barrel and briefly traded below the $43 level during the session.

Holiday Worries

However, the first batch of retail sales numbers for November from major U.S. retailers countered the oil news.

Wal-Mart, Federated Department Stores and Gap were among the chains that posted sales increases but that fell short of expectations for year-to-year comparisons, while a handful of others, including Pier 1 and Ann Taylor, posted year-to-year sales decreases. Exceptions included JC Penney, which had a 12 percent jump in year-over-year sales ,and stalwarts such as Target and Costco.

Some analysts said the slow month might portend a weaker-than-expected holiday season.

The mixed stock performance might also have reflected investors hedging bets ahead of tomorrow’s unemployment data for November.

Unemployment Concern

The figures for weekly jobless claims contained some reason for concern about that data. The Labor Department said 349,000 people filed for jobless claims nationwide last week, an increase of 25,000. The same data showed the four-week moving average was also slightly higher, bouncing off a four-year low set the previous week.

Meanwhile, the U.S. dollar fared slightly better than in recent sessions, gaining ground against the euro and yen.

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