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Shayne Heffernan Wall St Weekly Outlook

|Includes: Caterpillar Inc. (CAT), CF, NTR, TRA

The S&P 500 failed to build on Thursday’s gains, which pushed it to a 17-month high, in what was a tepid week for both bulls and bears. With few economic data points or corporate earnings reports, the stock market struggled for direction.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 12.85 points, or 0.12 per cent, to end at 10,624.69. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index shed 0.25 point, or 0.02 per cent, to 1,149.99. The Nasdaq Composite Index dipped 0.80 point, or 0.03 per cent, to close at 2,367.66.

February retail sales rose after forecasts had called for a decline and a Dow Jones index of retailer stocks gained 0.5 per cent. Macy’s Inc rose 3.3 per cent to $US21.75.

But a separate report showed consumer sentiment edged lower in early March, according to a survey that noted a less positive view of the job outlook.

For the week, the Dow gained 0.55 per cent, the S&P 500 climbed 1 per cent and the Nasdaq advanced 1.78 per cent.

Bank shares slid after having dominated the week’s activity on what analysts saw as an improved outlook for the sector. Citigroup Inc fell 5 per cent to $US3.97 on Friday, but was still up 13.4 per cent for the week, its best since August.

On Friday, the KBW bank index dropped 0.9 per cent.

Health insurers’ stocks fell as a group, with the Morgan Stanley healthcare payor index down 1.4 per cent, its largest daily per centage drop in three weeks. Aetna Inc dropped 2.6 per cent to $US31.84.

Caterpillar Inc jumped 2.5 per cent to $US60.36 and ranked as the Dow’s top points gainer a day after the heavy equipment maker said it could triple its current US output of hydraulic excavators.

CF Industries Holdings Inc fell 3.9 per cent to $US96.73 after Agrium Inc abandoned its $US5.4 billion bid for the company, bringing CF closer to clinching a deal with Terra Industries Inc. Agrium jumped 8 per cent to $US72.10.

In other economic data, the Commerce Department said business inventories were unchanged in January, compared with a forecast for a 0.2 per cent rise.

About 8.3 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, below last year’s estimated daily average of 9.65 billion.

Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a ratio of about 5 to 4. On the Nasdaq, the trend was reversed, with about six stocks falling for every five that rose.

Shayne Heffernan

Disclosure: Long CAT, Dow Futures, No TRA, CF, AGU