Stocks End Little Changed, But Up for Month of November

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U.S. stocks ended little changed Thursday as recent signs of healthy economic growth drove fund managers to bet stocks would keep rallying into December, but a report on slower Midwestern business activity tempered that enthusiasm.

The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 4.80 points, or 0.04 percent, to 12,221.93. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 1.15 points, or 0.08 percent, to 1,400.63. The Nasdaq Composite Index edged down just 0.46 of a point, or 0.02 percent, to 2,431.77.

For the month of November, the blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average rose 1.17 percent, while the broad Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 1.65 percent and the Nasdaq climbed 2.75 percent.

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Energy stocks rose for a fourth straight session, tracking a similar rally in crude oil prices, lifting Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Chevron Corp. (CVX) to lifetime highs.

In focusing on U.S. government data indicating growth in personal income and spending and gross domestic product, investors downplayed a report from the National Association of Purchasing Management-Chicago showing an unexpected contraction of business activity in the Midwest. Wall Street also appeared to shrug off a disappointing holiday sales outlook from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., whose shares fell 1.7 percent.

"Beyond the Chicago PMI, which hasn't been a reliable reading of the overall health of the economy, the majority of recent economic data, including yesterday's GDP report, has been positive. Energy stocks are also supporting the market," said Michael Malone, trading analyst at Cowen & Co. in New York.

The Nasdaq notched its fourth straight month of gains in November, matching a streak set at the end of 2004, while both the Dow and the S&P 500 registered their fifth straight monthly advances. The Dow marked its longest winning streak in more than three years.

"There's a lot of money on the sidelines out there from money managers, portfolio managers who are underinvested in this market, who have been non-believers. And it exacerbates in the last month of the year," said Mike Driscoll, Bear Stearns Cos. listed trader and managing director, in New York.

The Dow and the S&P 500 have both risen in seven out of the last 10 Decembers.

Among Nasdaq stocks, top advancers included Research in Motion (RIMM), up 3.5 percent, or $4.68, at $138.83 after Cingular Wireless, the largest U.S. mobile phone company, said it started selling the Canadian company's BlackBerry Pearl handheld device.

Shares of VeriSign Inc. (VRSN) jumped 7.5 percent, or $1.82, to $26.09 on Nasdaq after the U.S. Department of Commerce approved a deal that lets VeriSign continue running the lucrative ".com" Internet registry through 2012.

Among blue-chip stocks, Exxon Mobil's shares rose 1 percent, or 78 cents, to $76.81 on the New York Stock Exchange as U.S. crude oil for January delivery gained 67 cents to settle at $63.13 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange following a drop in U.S. fuel inventories.

Exxon Mobil was the No. 1 advancer in both the Dow and the S&P 500. Earlier during the session, it hit a lifetime high of $77.37.

Rival oil company Chevron's stock gained 1.8 percent, or $1.27, to $72.32, after reaching a lifetime high of $72.96 on the NYSE. Chevron was among the S&P 500's top gainers.

Shares of U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc. (PFE), a Dow component, rose 1.6 percent, or 42 cents, to $27.49 after the company raised its 2006 profit forecast,

That positive momentum helped Wall Street overcome the unexpected drop in the National Association of Purchasing Management-Chicago November business barometer. That index, also known as the Chicago PMI, fell to 49.9 in November — signaling business contraction in the Midwest for the first time in 3 1/2 years.

But Wall Street chose to focus more on the government's higher estimate for third-quarter GDP growth, released on Wednesday, as well as on Thursday's data showing U.S. incomes grew steadily in October and spending rebounded.

The heaviest weight on the Dow was DuPont Co., whose shares sank 2.5 percent, or $1.22, to $46.93 on the NYSE. DuPont's stock has risen 20 percent since the beginning of September.

The second-biggest drag on the Dow was Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, which forecast little improvement in December sales after posting its first monthly same-store sales drop in more than a decade in November, sending its stock down 1.7 percent.

Wal-Mart shares dropped 79 cents to $46.10 on the NYSE.

Volume was active on the NYSE, where about 2.26 billion shares changed hands, exceeding last year's daily average of 1.61 billion. On Nasdaq, about 2.15 billion shares traded, above last year's daily average of 1.80 billion.

Advancers outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by a ratio of about 2 to 1, while on Nasdaq, about eight stocks rose for every seven that fell.

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