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US Stock Prices Drop as Investors Await Economic Boost - 2001-07-31


U.S. stock prices closed slightly lower Monday during a very quiet trading session. Analysts say investors have little interest in buying during these uncertain economic times. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped a modest 14 points to 10,401. The broader Standard and Poor's 500 index also closed fractionally lower, while the tech-weighted NASDAQ composite dropped about .5 percent.

Analysts say lower corporate earnings, for a change, were not the reason investors stayed out of the market. People apparently are waiting for signs that the U.S. central bank's six interest rate cuts are starting to spur the economy.

"In a lot of ways I think the earnings are priced into this market," says Nick Angiletta, a market analyst with the Salomon Smith Barney investment firm. "Now I think it's going to be the overall economy and how is the economy going to help some of those numbers start to show improvement."

A new reading of consumer confidence comes out Tuesday. Wall Street will be watching those numbers closely. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of U.S. economic growth.

Analyst James Stack says consumers lately have been more optimistic about the future. He believes the Federal Reserve Board's credit-easing policy is working. "While analysts are debating whether the 'Fed' has lost control, or pushing on a string, a key factor is that it is starting to impact consumer confidence, particularly the future expectations component of that confidence - how consumers feel looking six months or more down the road," says Mr. Stack.

In other news, General Electric is on another buying spree, after failing in its bid to acquire Honeywell International. That deal was shot down by European anti-trust regulators.

General Electric, this time, has agreed to buy Heller Financial for about $5.3 billion. The move is intended to strengthen GE's commercial finance operations.

General Electric may have to undergo European scrutiny again. But analysts say Heller's overseas business is not that large, and they expect this deal to go through.

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