Stocks Finish Slightly Lower

Disappointing earnings from Hewlett-Packard weighed on the market

Stocks dipped into the red before closing Wednesday afternoon, after a mixed day of trading. Disappointing results from Hewlett-Packard weighed on the market. Rumors that Osama bin Laden had been captured caused a brief flurry of buying earlier in the session, according to S&P MarketScope.

The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial closed down 31.40 points, or 0.33%, at 9,397.50. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 2.05 points, or 0.20% to finish at 1,000.30. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index ended down slightly, losing 0.57 point, at 1,760.54. Underperforming industry groups included the healthcare and electronic manufacturers.

In earnings news, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ ) posted third quarter earnings of 23 cents versus 14 cents on a 4.9% rise in revenues. S&P says that the results are below expectations, citing aggressive desktop computer pricing, and maintains its hold rating. The stock ended 10.5% lower.

General Electric (GE ) and Vivendi (V ) have escalated talks on merging GE's NBC operations with Vivendi's film, and TV assets. The companies hope to resolve the key points before Vivendi's board meets on Tuesday. Both GE and Vivendi finished slightly lower.

Patterson Dental (PDCO ) lost 5.5% Wednesday, after posting lower than expected first quarter earnings of 43 cents, vs. 42 cents, after the cummulative effect of accounting change, on 12% higher sales. The company sees second quarter earnings as high as 48 cents, excluding any contribution from its pending acquisition of AbilityOne.

In pharmaceutical news, Bayer AG (BAY ) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK ) have announced that their Viagra alternative, Levitra, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat erectile dysfunction. The drug should be available in the U.S. in the next few weeks. Bayer finished 2% higher, and GlaxoSmithKline was mostly unchanged.

Photronics(PLAB ) has posted earnings of 4 cents per share, including a 3 cents charge for early debt extinguishment, versus 4 cents on a 7.8% dip in sales. Photronics added 17%, to finish at $22.23.

Network Appliances (NTAP ) posted first quarter earnings of 8 cents, versus 5 cents on a revenue bounce of 26%. The company reportedly forecasted a second quarter EPS as high as 10 cents. The stock added 16%.

Pet-supply retailer Petco(PETC ) surged 14% after posting second quarter earnings of 23 cents per share, versus 17 cents, on an increase of 6.1% in same store sales, and total sales jump of 12%. The company raised its third-quarter guidance to an upward range of 26 cents.

Child clothing retailer Gymboree(GYMB ) posted a loss of 4 cents per share in its second quarter, versus the same loss last year, on 1% same store sales rise, and a 4.5% increase in total sales. The company reconfirmed its 25 cents to 27 cents, thrird-quarter EPS guidance, seeing as much as 88 cents in its fiscal 2004 earnings per share. The stock closed 6.2% higher.

Other companies reporting second-quarter earnings this week include Limited Brands (LTD ) on Thursday.

On Thursday, traders will get updates on jobless claims, leading indicators, and the Philadelphia Fed Index.

Treasury Market

Treasuries finished lower, and broke a four-day winning streak amid light trading. "Look for some attempt to rebound from the midweek impulsive selling, but data and stocks may create stiff headwinds," says MMS International. "If [Thursday's economic] data fails to give Treasuries a bullish bias, expect speculative selling to re-enter the market, and take the Treasuries down further."

Gold, and gold-mining stocks, were higher, with the price of the precious metal moving above $364 an ounce as Iraqi concerns continue to plague the markets, according to MMS.

World Markets

European markets finished lower on Wednesday. "There was a closer eye on yesterday's weaker data in the U.S., together with weak French data, and the safety bid emerging from heightened geo-political tensions," says MMS. In London, the Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index ended down 33.40, or 0.79%, at 4,217.40.

In Paris, the CAC 40 ended down by 30.36 points, or 0.92% at 3,280.34. Germany's DAX index finished down 1.68 points, or 0.05% to 3,502.85. The German cabinet said that the economy, which faltered in the second quarter, might recover in the third quarter.

Asian markets finished mixed. Once again, Japan's Nikkei 225 index pushed strongly ahead, adding 1.16% to finish at 10,292.06. "Profit taking was seen on some high-techs in the morning, as investors started to worry about an overbought market," says MMS. Tokyo Electron lost 2.58%, and Advantest declined 1.87%, dragged lower by disappointing quarterly earning results from Hewlett-Packard. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index slipped 33.96 points, or 0.32%, to close at 10,475.33.

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