Stocks Finish Mixed

Tech shares continued to outperform, as investors mulled worse-than-expected trade data and a mixed bag of corporate news

Stocks finished trading mixed Wednesday. Blue-chips showed particular weakness, weighed down by Altria Group's legal concerns, but tech shares continued to show resilience. Investors mulled weak trade data and some negative corporate news.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 66.88 points, or 0.73%, to 9,156.21. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index declined 5.62 points, or 0.56%, to 1,002.22. Meanwhile, the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index gained 1.06 points, or 0.06%, to 1,747.52.

After Wednesday's closing bell, Internet media company Yahoo! (YHOO ) reported higher second-quarter revenues and met earnings-per-share estimates. Also after the bell, biotechnology outfit Genentech (DNA ) reported better-than-expected earnings per share.

Investors had plenty of company news to digest during Wednesday's session. Personal care products maker Helen of Troy (HELE ) said quarterly profit more than doubled on strong international sales and sales of professional products.

Logitech (LOGI ) fell after the computer accessories company warned that profits would fall short weeks after saying the opposite. It expects operating income in the quarter ended in June to be half its original forecast.

Weighing on the Dow average, Altria Group (MO ) shares declined more than 7% Wednesday, after an Illinois court reviewed a favorable legal decision regarding the company's Phillip Morris USA unit.

In other tobacco company news, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings (RJR ) and Brown and Williamson, the U.S. unit of British American Tobacco (BTI ), reportedly held talks to merge their U.S. business units.

Dow component Microsoft Corp. (MSFT ) said it will stop its practice of awarding stock options to employees and instead issue direct stock grants that will be expensed.

Another Dow member, Alcoa (AA ), after the close Tuesday reported a fall in its latest quarter's earnings but beat Wall Street estimates. Shares slid more than 2%.

Kraft Foods (KFT ) announced management changes including the departure of Irene Rosenfeld, president of the company's North American businesses, after less than a year on the job.

Shares in oil services giant Halliburton (HAL ) ticked higher Wednesday, after a report in the Financial Times suggested the company could save $3.5 billion in asbestos liability costs on pending legislation. J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM ) issued an upgrade of the stock.

Drug company AstraZeneca (AZN ) won FDA approval for its cholesterol-lowering drug Crestor. Shares shot higher on the news.

On Thursday, Abbott Laboratories (ABT ), Pepsico (PEP ), and SunTrust (STI ) are among companies expected to report quarterly earnings. General Electric (GE ) is slated to report on Friday.

On the economic data front, Wednesday's update on wholesale trade inventories was worse that expected, falling 0.3% in May. Economic research outfit MMS International had anticipated inventories to rise 0.1% for the month, following a 0.1% drop in April.

On Thursday, import and export price data are due. MMS expects June import prices to rise 0.9%, led by higher petroleum prices. Export prices are seen flat. Also on the docket is weekly initial jobless claims figures.

Treasury Market

U.S. Treasuries were slightly higher in price, in a thin, choppy trading session. Weak wholesale trade numbers supported prices, and in the absence of other economic data, traders focused on softer momentum in stocks. On Thursday, a speech from Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan is due. Also, the European Central Bank and Bank of England will hold policy meetings, although MMS expects both to keep rates steady.

On Thursday, investors await June import and export price data. Friday brings the June producer price index and May trade balance data.

World Markets

European markets were lower Wednesday on weakness in the U.S. equities market. In London, the Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 lost 18.9 points, or 0.46%, to 4,054.7, despite lack of reaction to a report that the May trade gap widened.

In Germany, the DAX Index shed 22.03 points, or 0.66%, to 3,322.43, amid polls showing corporate managers support Chancellor Schroeder's economic plans and a government report that exports rose in May for first time in 4 months.

In France, the CAC 40 lost 38.04 points, or 1.2%, to 3,139.93.

In Asia, major stock indexes ended higher. Japan's Nikkei index finished up 92.23 points, or 0.93%, to 9,990.95. Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 34.54 points, or 0.35%, to 10,027.41.

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