Stocks End Modestly Lower

Expectation-topping results from Dow member Alcoa failed to lift the major indexes as Wall Street awaited more news on earnings

Stocks ended modestly lower on Wednesday as investors paused after the recent buying spree. While aluminum maker Alcoa's (AA ) results, released after the close of trading Tuesday, topped expectations, investors appeared to be marking time ahead of the next major earnings releases.

The Dow Jones industrial lost 23.71 points, or 0.25%, to 9,630.90. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index eased 5.48 points, or 0.53%, to 1,033.78. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index slipped 14.07 points, or 0.74%, to 1,893.78.

After the close of trading Wednesday, internet media company Yahoo! (YHOO ), reported third quarter net income of 10 cents per share vs. 5 cents for the same period of 2002. Net revenues rose 43%.

Among the companies reporting on Thursday are drugmaker Abbott Laboratories (ABT ), hotels chain Marriott International (MAR ) and technology company Handspring (HAND )

As far as economic data, Wall Street will be looking for more signs that the U.S. jobs market is improving. Economic research unit MMS is looking for the number of first time jobless claims to decline 4,000 to 395,000 for the week ending Oct. 4 from 399,000 in the previous week.

Earnings news on Wednesday was mixed and Wall Street is eagerly anticipating results from big players including General Electric (GE ), due at the end of the week.

On Wednesday, GE and Vivendi Universal said they planned to merge their show business operations to form a $43 billion entertainment giant that would include Hollywood's Universal Studios and the NBC network.

Among the companies reporting on Wednesday, Costco (COST ), the warehouse club operator, reported 3% lower fourth-quarter profits as a key rival cut prices.

Billing software company CSG (CSGS ) warned its quarterly earnings will fall as much 60% because of an arbitrator's ruling on a contract dispute with cable operator Comcast.

Groceries retailer and wholesaler Supervalu (SVU ) posted a 5.8% rise in quarterly profit thanks to a gain in customers.

Fast food giant McDonald's (MCD ) reported same store sales grew 10% but the stock declined.

Among the down sectors were wireless, telecom, electronic components and general merchandisers. Gold and aluminum companies gained.

Treasury Markets

Treasuries ended mostly higher, snapping back from opening losses, as bond buyers moved in on the equity losses. MMS sources also said that rate-locking, which weighed on Treasuries initially, dried up, as did selling from mortgage accounts.

In economic data, U.S. Wholesale sales rose 0.4%, inventories fell 0.2% in August.

The lean U.S. wholesale inventory data for August restrain the outlook for third quarter gross domestic product, but bode well for growth overall, MMS says. MMS says it will stick with its GDP estimates of 6% in the third quarter and 5% in the fourth quarter until it sees trade data this Friday, though the upside third-quarter risk has been contained by the inventories, which now imply a 0.1% August total business inventory drop.

World Markets

European stock markets were trading lower. London's Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index off 3.40 points, or 0.08%, to 4,268.60.

In Paris, the CAC 40 was off 6.14 points, or 0.19%, to 3,248.61.

Germany's DAX index added 39.55 points, or 1.18%, to 3,395.33 led by stock exchange Deutsche Boerse, banker Commerzbank AG, postal co. Deutsche Poste, phone co. Deutsche Telekom.

Asian markets finished lower. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index lost 278.13 points, or 2.57%, to 10,542.20 as Aug machinery orders were much weaker than expected at -4.3% month over month. The market opened weaker since the U.S. dollar fell sharply to the lowest level against the yen since November, 2000. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index fell 3.12 points, or 0.03%, to 11,720.80.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.