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Blue Chips Edge Up, Tech Stocks Slip
(05/21/03 05:31 PM)
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Blue chips ended slightly higher on Wednesday as investors took heart from guardedly upbeat remarks on the U.S. economy by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, but tech stocks eased after a bearish call on Cisco Systems Inc. In congressional testimony, Greenspan said he was cautiously optimistic about the potential for the economy to pick up in the second half of 2003. "Greenspan had some positive comments about the economy, and the Fed has plenty of bullets left in its arsenal," said Weston Boone, vice president of listed trading at Legg Mason Wood Walker in Baltimore. "This could be a small rally trying to gain back some of yesterday's decline, which was driven by the raising of the terror alert." Concerns about a possible attack in the United States kept sentiment in check after a purported audio tape by a top al Qaeda official urged Muslims to strike Western targets. Washington put U.S. military bases on their highest alert after a week of suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, and Saudi Arabia also said it had foiled a Sept. 11-style hijack attempt to attack Saudi landmarks. The Dow Jones industrial average (CBOT:^DJI - News) edged up 25.07 points, or 0.30 percent, at 8,516.43. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 Index (CBOE:^SPX - News) added 3.69 points, or 0.40 percent, to 923.42. The technology-laced Nasdaq Composite Index (NasdaqSC:^IXIC - News) slipped 1.22 points, or 0.08 percent, ending at 1,489.87. Trading was active, with roughly 1.44 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange (News - Websites) and about 1.56 billion shares traded on the Nasdaq. Gainers outnumbered decliners by a ratio of about 20 to 13 on the Big Board, and by 17 to 15 on the Nasdaq. "(Greenspan) stated the party line that it looks like the economy will recover, but the timing of it remains uncertain," said Victory Capital Management chief market strategist Richard Nash. Still, "the pullbacks have been fairly orderly, and have generally met with some pretty decent buying," Nash said. TOBACCO SHARES JUMP; CISCO FALLS Shares of tobacco companies were among the Big Board's biggest percent gainers on news that a Florida appeals court reversed a landmark $145 billion judgment against major U.S. tobacco companies. The ruling, which knocked down a July 2000 jury verdict that held the top five U.S. cigarette companies liable for the illnesses of about 700,000 smokers, was seen as a major victory for the tobacco industry. Altria Group Inc. (NYSE:MO - News), parent of top U.S. cigarette maker Philip Morris USA, jumped more than 9 percent and helped prop up the Dow. Altria ended up $3.39 at $38.30. Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE:HPQ - News), another Dow component, gained 89 cents, or 5.22 percent, to $17.94. On Tuesday, the No. 2 computer company behind IBM reported better-than-expected quarterly earnings, leading some analysts to raise their earnings forecasts on the company. Leading tech shares declined, led by Cisco Systems, the leading maker of equipment that directs Internet traffic. Investment bank DB Securities said it cut its investment rating on Cisco to "hold" from "buy" for valuation reasons. Cisco fell 1.81 percent, or 29 cents, to $15.70.

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