Wall Street turned in another do-nothing day as a $250 million Vioxx verdict against Merck & Co. held the Dow Jones industrial average to a puny gain.
The Dow advanced 4 points to 10,559.23, but would have gained another 19 points without Merck, whose stock fell $2.35 to $28.06 after the Texas verdict was announced.
The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index gained less than a point to 1,219.71 and the Nasdaq Stock Market composite index fell about half a point to 2,135.56.
With the vacation season in full swing and the second quarter earnings season almost over, Wall Street did its best to do nothing. The Dow ended the week off 41 points, the Nasdaq composite down 21 and the S&P behind by 11.
All but a handful of the S&P 500 companies have reported their second quarter profits, with 70 percent of them delivering better-than-expected results.
But Wall Street had been counting on a strong quarter, so stocks climbed steadily during July and hit their peak the first week of August--before many of the earnings reports had even been issued.
Since then, oil prices have held back the market. Crude oil futures ended the week $1.75 lower at $65.35, despite a $2-a-barrel jump on Friday.
Skittish oil traders blamed today's increase on the rockets that buzzed above U.S. ships in Jordan this morning and on political demonstrations that have reduced oil exports from Ecuador--a very minor producer.
Oil prices fueled the showdown between Northwest Airlines and its mechanics, which could be next week's big market mover. With fuel prices out of control, Northwest and other airlines are squeezing their other big cost--payrolls.
As talks continued toward a deadline at midnight tonight, Northwest said it will try to keep flying even if there is a walkout.
But if the first airline strike since 1998 does disrupt travel, Wall Street is likely to hunker down in response.