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Wall Street seeks direction after choppy week

Wall Street re-opens following a holiday weekend in search of direction after a choppy week, with worries over the recession-mired economy and the US government's mounting debt weighing on the market.

business Updated: May 23, 2009 11:22 IST

Wall Street re-opens following a holiday weekend in search of direction after a choppy week, with worries over the recession-mired economy and the US government's mounting debt weighing on the market.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.10 per cent in the week to Friday to 8,277.32.

The tech-dominated Nasdaq added 0.71 per cent to 1,692.01 while the broad-market Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed 0.47 per cent in the week to 887.00.

Investors could be hearing a warning in the market bromide of "sell in May and go away" as they consolidated positions ahead of a three-day weekend, with the stocks and bond market closed on Monday for the Memorial Day holiday that kicks off the US summer vacation season.

Worries about rising unemployment, home foreclosures and the trillions of dollars the government is spending to shore up the economy left little room to dream of lazy afternoons in the sun.

Government debt ratings gripped the attention of markets after Standard & Poor's on Thursday warned Britain was at risk of losing its triple-A rating.

Fresh concerns that the debt-swollen United States could lose its triple-A rating triggered steep selloffs in equities and weakened the dollar.

Bonds plunged on the rating concerns. The yield on the 10-year US Treasury bond shot up to 3.448 per cent from 3.123 per cent a week earlier and that on the 30-year bond leapt to 4.392 per cent from 4.083 per cent. Bond yields and prices move in opposite directions.

The modest equities rise came after a selloff last week that had snapped a two-month rally as investors appeared to grow disenchanted with seeing "green shoots" of recovery in weak economic and company reports.

A series of worse-than-expected economic data hung over the market.

A surprise drop in April retail sales suggested "greens shoots withering," said Ian Shepherdson at High Frequency Economics.

"There is no momentum in spending; the freefall is over but shredded balance sheets and declining incomes mean a broadly flat trend is about the best we can expect."

New claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected and the insured employment rate hit 5.0 per cent for the first time since 1982.

"The S&P 500 may be stuck around here for a while, maybe until the next earnings season begins in July. The lucky streak of not-so-bad news may be over for now," said Ed Yardeni of Yardeni at Yardeni Research.

The US Treasury's June 1 deadline for General Motors to submit an acceptable restructuring plan or face bankruptcy weighed on the market.

A filing for bankruptcy protection by the biggest US automaker could cause another surge in unemployment, following rival Chrysler's collapse.

"Further production shutdowns in the auto industry in the coming months, as well as dealer closings and other 'ripple-effects' among suppliers and other tangentially related businesses, are likely to push initial jobless claims back toward their recent highs," said Joseph LaVorgna at Deutsche Bank.

The holiday-shortened week will be packed with key economic data to digest, from a reading on May consumer confidence on Tuesday to durable goods orders on Thursday.

The shattered housing market, the epicenter of the financial crisis that spread globally over the past year, will be in focus, with sales data on existing homes on Wednesday and new homes on Thursday.

On Friday, the government will give its second estimate of first-quarter gross domestic product activity. The economy shrank a punishing 6.1 per cent, according to the initial estimate, after contracting at an annualized rate of 6.3 per cent in the fourth quarter.

A Merrill Lynch survey offered a ray of hope, showing fund managers had turned sharply bullish from the "dark days" of last October when the global firestorm accelerated and 60 per cent had forecasted a worsening outlook.

"In May's survey, a net 57 per cent say the economy will improve over the next 12 months, up from 26 per cent in April," the company said.