Wall Street remained mired in uncertainty yesterday, ending an erratic session narrowly mixed as investors' inflation worries worsened in the face of a sharp jump in import prices.
Investors found some encouragement after the Energy Department reported an increase in the nation's refining capacity, which had been severely disrupted by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The nation's crude oil reserves also rose, sending oil prices lower. And technology companies rallied in afternoon trading, enabling the market to bounce back some.
But the chronic fretting over inflation dominated the markets after the Commerce Department said prices for imported goods rose 2.3 percent in August -- the biggest increase in 15 years, and far greater than the 0.9 percent hike economists had forecast.
With many corporate earnings reports due next week, strong fourth-quarter profit forecasts could give stocks a much-needed boost.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.32, to 10,216.59. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index slipped 0.84, or 0.1 percent, to 1176.84. The Nasdaq composite index climbed 9.75, or 0.5 percent, to 2047.22.
Apple Computer climbed $4.49, or 9.1 percent, to $53.74, for the best performance in the S&P 500. The company on Wednesday unveiled a version of the best-selling iPod digital-music player that also shows videos and TV programs. The stock had retreated 4.5 percent Wednesday after Apple reported fourth-quarter revenue that trailed analysts' estimates.
Google fell $3.53, to $297.44, on reports that the Internet company is in talks to acquire a stake in America Online from Time Warner. Cable operator Comcast was also reported to be involved in the talks, potentially leading to a split of AOL. Comcast fell 72 cents, to $27.20.
Time Warner rose 10 cents, to $17.59.
McDonald's climbed 38 cents, to $32.05. The fast-food giant said it expects its third-quarter profit to beat Wall Street forecasts.
HCA shed 16 cents, to $46.53, after the hospital operator lowered its quarterly profit forecasts, which HCA blamed in part on costs related to the Gulf Coast hurricanes.
New York Stock Exchange composite index fell 29.62, to 7293.12.
American Stock Exchange index fell 28.08, to 1594.79.
Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks rose 1.71, to 623.28.
NYSE: 2.35 billion shares, down from 2.53 billion on Wednesday. Decliners outnumbered advancers
13 to 7.
Nasdaq: 1.8 billion shares, down from 2.04 billion. Advancers narrowly outnumbered decliners.
Crude oil for November delivery: $63.08, down $1.04.
Gold for current delivery: $471.10 a troy ounce, down from $473.90 on Wednesday.