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Published: Saturday, 6/25/2005

Oil continues to weigh down Wall Street hopes

BY HOMER BRICKEY
BLADE SENIOR BUSINESS WRITER

The stock market looked promising at the beginning of this week. The Dow Jones industrial average was well over the 10,600 level, just 9 percent below its all-time record of five years ago.

But then - boom! - a glut of bad news, mostly soaring oil prices, sent the index south. Now, after two straight triple-digit losses, the Dow is under 10,300. This is the 39th time the Dow has fallen below 10,500 since early 2000, when it peaked at 11,722.98.

Other popular indexes - the Standard & Poor's 500-stock average and the Nasdaq composite - are also stuck in a rut.

The S&P 500 is back below 1,200, a benchmark it has fallen below 10 times in the last five years, after it crested at 1,527.46. And the Nasdaq remained above 2,000 this week, but it has had trouble maintaining that level, dropping below it 17 times since it plummeted from its early-2000 record of 5,048.62.

"The cost of energy is a drag on the economy," said Sarah Berndt, vice president of Fifth Third Bank's investment-advisory division in Sylvania.

Oil at $60 a barrel is hurting corporate capital spending, she said.

The stock-market indexes may remain stuck for a while, until there's better job growth, a leveling out of interest rates, and reduced oil prices, she said.

Other area brokers said the market's doldrums are mostly psychological and that the economy and corporate earnings are both doing well.

At times in the past, the stock market has been stuck within a range for years.

For example, it took nearly 17 years for the Dow to escape the 1,000 level. That average touched the magic threshold during the day four times in early 1966 but did not close over 1,000 until November, 1972. Between then and December, 1982, the Dow fell back below 1,000 a total of 28 times.

Some experts nationally believe that the second half of 2005 will be a clone of last year's second half, which brought gains to the markets.

However, the consensus of 12 well-known stock pickers interviewed in this week's issue of Barron's is that there will be little upside in coming months.

Fifth Third's Ms. Berndt said, "Realistically, with Iraq and energy prices, the chance of a pickup [in stocks] is probably only about 35 percent."

Contact Homer Brickey at:

homerbrickey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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