Stocks repeated their familiar "rally-then-retreat" pattern today, repulsed this time by hints of inflation in a private report on the health of the manufacturing sector of the economy.
After advancing every day last week, the Dow Jones industrial average began the fourth quarter of the year with a 33-point loss, falling to 10,535.48. The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index slipped two points to 1,226.70. The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index climbed four points to 2,155.43.
Today's market-mover was the monthly index calculated by the Institute for Supply Management -- an organization of managers who buy raw materials for corporations.
The index showed manufacturing accelerating unexpectedly, lifting the institute's factory index to 59.4 from 53.6.
But the shocker was the companion "prices paid" index that tracks prices of parts and materials. It jumped from 62.5 to 78 -- its biggest monthly advance in 15 years.
While price increases for raw materials may reflect some of the temporary shortages caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, investors worried that they are signaling a sudden acceleration in inflation -- particularly in fuel and petrochemicals.
The bond market went for that interpretation, raising rates on 10-year Treasury notes. Stocks retreated not only in response to the index itself but also because of the jump in interest rates.
The impact of record fuel prices was painfully evident in September motor vehicle sales reports. While DaimlerChrysler sales gained almost 4 percent, monthly volume fell 19 percent at Ford and 24 percent at General Motors.
Bad as those totals looked, the data on big trucks and sport utility vehicles was even worse -- sales down 30 percent and more. Hardest hit were the biggest SUVs, like the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition. Sales of both were down more than 50 percent.