Today was one of those days on Wall Street where the best thing you could say was that stocks didn't go down -- except for the technology stocks, which slumped despite hints of titillating talks between two big names.
The market continued to feel the aftershocks of Hurricane Katrina, which contributed to higher consumer prices, higher manufacturing costs, higher interest rates and a huge jump in new applications for jobless benefits.
The lines at the unemployment office grew by 71,000 people -- the biggest weekly increase in nine years -- to 398,000 people. Almost all of that was because of Katrina, the Labor Department said.
The consumer price index climbed by 0.5 percent as energy prices increased by the most in two years. Inflation is now running at a 3.6 percent a year rate, compared with a 3.2 percent rate a year ago.
The biggest jolt to the market came from an economic measure that is not as familiar to most people -- the manufacturing cost index compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. That index showed a huge increase in the number of firms reporting they are paying higher prices for materials.
Stock prices dropped dramatically when that report hit Wall Street, but recovered by the closing bell.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed up almost 14 points at 10,558.75 and the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index gained about half a point to 1,227.73.
The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index fell three points to 2,146.15 but provided much of the day's excitement with reports of talks between Microsoft and Time Warner about America Online of Dulles.
AOL sources confirmed they are talking, but played down reports that Microsoft might buy AOL. More likely are joint ventures between AOL and MSN, the competing Internet service owned by Microsoft.