Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stocks off to a sluggish start

Stocks opened lower Wednesday after a disappointing report on the housing market overshadowed higher oil and gold prices.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) was down 26 points, or 0.2%, shortly after the opening bell. The S&P 500 (SPX) lost 0.2% and the Nasdaq composite (COMP) declined 0.4%.

Oil prices rose near $80 a barrel, while gold hit another all-time high. The dollar weakened against rival currencies.

Stocks closed at 13-month highs for the second day in a row Tuesday, as strength in commodity-linked shares offset weakness in the retail sector.
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Philip Isherwood, equities strategist at Evolution Securities in London, said the pre-market report on the housing market will be the prime influence on stock activity at the opening bell.

"Housing starts are obviously going to be important," he said prior to the report's release, when forecasts from consensus pointed to housing growth.

Economy: The U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that housing starts fell more than 10% to an annual rate of 529,000 in October, the lowest level in six months. An annual rate of 600,000 housing starts was expected, according to a forecast from consensus. The revised rate for September was 592,000.

The government reported that the annual rate of housing permits fell 4% to 552,000 in October, from the revised September rate of 575,000. This was lower than the 580,000 permits expected for October, according to consensus. .

The government also reported its Consumer Price Index, a key measure of inflation, rose 0.3%.

The CPI was expected to rise 0.2% in October, according to a consensus of economists surveyed by

The core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, rose 0.2% in October. That was slightly more than the 0.1% increase expected for October, according to consensus.

Companies: Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500) said Tuesday that it is launching a $500 million initiative aimed at propping up small businesses.

Obama administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, are due to meet Wednesday to address the small business lending drought.

World markets: Japan's Nikkei index finished the session 0.6% lower. Major indexes in Europe were higher in midday trading.

Money, oil and gold: The dollar, which has suffered from recent weakness, was down versus all major currencies except the British pound.

The price of oil rose 76 cents to $79.91 per barrel.

For gold, it's been another day, another record. In electronic trading, the price of gold rose $8.40 to $1,147.20 per ounce.

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