Stocks Finish Flat

Traders remained cautious ahead of Tuesday's release of the Mar. 22 FOMC meeting minutes

Stocks closed flat in thin trading Monday. Traders appeared cautious ahead of Tuesday's release of the minutes of the Mar. 22 Federal Open Market Committee meeting, which may provide further clues to the Fed policy outlook. Oil prices rose in late trading after posting losses during the morning. Earlier in the day, Ford Motor (F ) slashed its 2005 earnings guidance, putting a damper on market sentiment.

On Monday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 12.78 points, or 0.12%, to 10,448.56. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 0.01 points, to 1,181.21. The Nasdaq composite index went down 7.23 points, or 0.36% to 1,992.12.

The market is seeing a shift out of cyclical and consumer discretionary stocks into defensive groups including utilities, consumer staples, and health care, according to Standard & Poor's MarketScope.

Crude oil prices continued rising in afternoon trading, after being down more than a dollar earlier. The price of crude settled up 39 cents to $53.71 a barrel.

In corporate news, Ford cut its 2005 earnings guidance to between $1.25 and $1.50 a share from its earlier forecast of between $1.75 and $1.95 a share. While the automaker stated it would exceed its first quarter guidance, the stock was downgraded by several analysts. Standard & Poor's reiterated its hold rating.

Circuit City (CC ) posted fourth-quarter earnings of 43 cents a share, vs. 46 cents last year, on 1.8% lower same-store sales. The electronics retailer saw 5.3% higher total sales from more stores in operation.

The takeover battle for MCI (MCIP ) took a new twist Monday as telecom giant Verizon (VZ ) inked a deal to purchase approximately 43.4 million shares of the company from Mexican investor Carlos Slim for $25.72 per share, in cash.

Bemis (BMS ) said it expects its first-quarter guidance to be 25% lower than previously expected, citing much lower-than-expected operating profits in the flexible packaging business. Standard & Poor's reiterated its buy rating on the stock.

Up ahead on the earnings calendar, companies reporting quarterly results include Apple Computer (AAPL ) and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD ) on Wednesday, Pepsi (PEP ) on Thursday, and Citigroup (C ) and General Electric (GE ) on Friday.

A number of closely-watched economic reports will be released this week, beginning Tuesday with the Mar. 22 FOMC minutes and figures on the international trade balance. On Wednesday, retail sales data for March will be reported, and on Friday the monthly index of industrial production is due out.

Treasury Market

Treasuries moved higher in price Monday, on safety bids following Ford's guidance cut, says Action Economics. The yield on the benchmark 10-year note fell to 4.43%.

World Markets

European stock markets finished lower. London's Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index was down 10.40 points, or 0.21%, to 4,973.20.

Germany's DAX index lost 6.67 points, or 0.16%, to 4,117.62.

In Paris, the CAC 40 index fell 6.67 points, or 0.16%, to 4117.62.

Asian markets finished lower on Monday. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index fell 129.11 points, or 1.09%, to 11,745.64.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 6.79 points, or 0.05%, moving to 13,659.93.

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