Stocks rise as worries about Dubai ease; investors look to retailers for clues about consumers

By Tim Paradis, AP
Monday, November 30, 2009

Stocks turn higher to extend month’s big gains

NEW YORK — The stock market ended November with its best monthly performance since the summer — even as investors worried about the strength of the holiday shopping season.

Stocks zigzagged Monday but finished modestly higher as traders ultimately were not deterred by reports that retail sales were overall uninspiring during the Thanksgiving weekend. Retailers including Macy’s Inc. and Saks Inc. fell sharply but online merchants like Inc. shot higher on reports of strong Internet sales.

Despite the tepid finish, the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose more than 5 percent in November, their biggest monthly advance since July.

Investors may have had a muted reaction to the weekend sales reports because expectations are low due to weak consumer confidence and an unemployment rate over 10 percent. They also are buying stocks because other investments such as Treasurys don’t offer the big returns that companies’ shares do.

ShopperTrak, which follows more than 50,000 outlets, said retail sales rose 0.9 percent for Friday and Saturday, the start of the holiday shopping season, though fewer shoppers ventured into stores. Online sales jumped 11 percent Thursday and Friday, according to comScore, an Internet research firm.

Investors have been worried that rising unemployment would make shoppers reluctant to spend during the holidays. Traders are already looking to the government’s November unemployment report, which is due Friday, for clues about how consumers will spend during December and beyond.

The National Retail Federation, a trade group, said Sunday it still expects holiday sales to slip 1 percent compared with last year.

Benny Lorenzo, CEO of the investment bank Kaufman Bros. in New York, said investors are cautious about holiday sales, but he also pointed to Internet retailers as one area of strength.

“Certainly in a market like this it could’ve been a lot worse for sure,” he said of investors’ reaction to sales reports.

Analysts said a late-day report that Dubai was working on restructuring its debt gave stocks a lift by easing concerns that credit problems in the Middle Eastern city-state would spread.

The Dow rose 34.92, or 0.3 percent, to 10,344.84. The broader S&P 500 index rose 4.14, or 0.4 percent, to 1,095.63, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 6.16, or 0.3 percent, to 2,144.60.

The Dow rose 632 points, or 6.5 percent, in November, its fifth straight monthly gain. Gains of that magnitude might ordinarily take a year to build. The S&P 500 index added 5.7 percent in November and the Nasdaq rose 4.9 percent.

Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co. in Boston, said investors remain cautious, in part because of the heavy flow of economic data due this week. Reports are due Tuesday on manufacturing and home sales.

“We’ve got a lot of signposts ahead that will help us choose a direction,” he said.

Bond prices were mixed. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.22 percent from 3.21 percent late Friday.

The dollar fell against other major currencies, while gold rose.

Ethan Anderson, a senior portfolio manager at Rehmann Financial in Grand Rapids, Mich., said record-low interest rates are leaving even hesitant investors with few options for generating decent returns, so they keep buying stocks although they’re wary about whether the market can keep rising. The S&P 500 index is up 62 percent from a 12-year low in March.

“The question is where else can you put your money,” he said.

The market’s modest moves came after stocks tumbled Friday on concern about Dubai. The Dow closed down 155 points after being off more than 200 earlier.

Investors were anxious about the possibility that a default by Dubai could touch off a new round of lending problems even as credit markets are still recovering from last year’s near-shutdown following the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Analysts said many professional investors are hoping to lock in strong gains for the year so they’re holding off making big moves. Volatility fell in November. The S&P 500 index logged seven days when it moved more than 1 percent, down from prior months.

Among retailers, Macy’s slid 66 cents, or 3.9 percent, to $16.31, while Target Corp. fell $1.14, or 2.4 percent, to $46.56. Luxury department store Saks fell 42 cents, or 6.4 percent, to $6.11.

Online sellers advanced. Amazon jumped $4.17, or 3.2 percent, to $135.91, while eBay Inc. rose $1.25, or 5.4 percent, to $24.47.

Most financial stocks rose as fear about Dubai eased but American International Group Inc. tumbled on concerns the insurer doesn’t have adequate reserves to pay some potential claims. Todd Bault, a Sanford Bernstein analyst, said AIG faces an $11 billion shortfall to cover potential claims at its property and casualty insurance business, according to media reports.

An AIG spokeswoman declined to comment. The stock fell $4.90, or 14.7 percent, to $28.40.

Light, sweet crude rose $1.23 to settle at $77.28 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Three stocks rose for every two that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to a moderate 4.3 billion shares.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 2.52, or 0.4 percent, to 579.73.

Overseas, Britain’s FTSE 100, Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC-40 each lost 1.1 percent. Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 2.9 percent.

will not be displayed