Stocks Get Oracle Boost But Financial Woes Persist

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks remained in positive territory Thursday, but lost an early boost provided by software-maker Oracle Corp.'s 35% profit rise, as bond insurer MBIA Inc. reported a large exposure to risky debt and Bear Stearns posted its first-ever quarterly loss.

"Problems in the financial sector are again scaring the market," said Owen Fitzpatrick, head of the U.S. equity group at Deutsche Bank. "It's obvious this issue is going to linger for some time."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 3 points at 13,210 in midmorning trade, well off an earlier high of 13,288. The Dow's technology components -- IBM and Microsoft -- provided most of the strength.

But financial components American Express , Citigroup Inc. and J.P. Morgan Chase turned negative after the MBIA news.

MBIA shares slumped nearly 25% after the bond insurer disclosed $8.14 billion of exposure to complex credit products known as CDO squareds.

Bear Stearns also lost early strength, falling 0.5%, after posting its first-ever quarterly loss as the company's mortgage-related write-down grew to $1.9 billion.

The S&P 500 index still rose 1.6 points to 1,454, while the Nasdaq Composite rose 15.2 points to 2,616.

Leading tech shares, Oracle jumped 7% after reporting a 35% rise in fiscal second-quarter profit, topping Wall Street's expectations.

NetSuite , of which Oracle CEO Larry Ellison held 61% at the end of November, priced its IPO at $26, above the target range of $19 to $22. The company initially pitched its IPO at $13 to $16, then raised its range to between $16 and $19.

Investors also bought shares of Research in Motion Ltd. ahead of its quarterly report after the close.

Economy

FedEx fell 1.6% after it reported a 6% profit fall, hit by rising fuel costs and weakness in the U.S. economy, and issued murky third-quarter guidance.

The market earlier received a boost after the government said the U.S. economy grew at a 4.9% annual pace in the third quarter, the fastest growth in four years. The 4.9% final estimate was unrevised from the previous estimate and was in line with expectations.

But inflation worries, which central bank officials have often cited recently, remained as the core personal consumption expenditure price index -- the Fed's favored inflation gauge -- rose at a 2% annual rate in the quarter, not the 1.8% previously reported.

In addition, downbeat weekly jobless claims and leading economic indicators data increased the safe-have appeal of fixed-income assets in thin market conditions ahead of next week's holiday.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury bond gained 4/32 to 101 29/32, yielding 4.014%.

The dollar rose against the euro but fell a touch versus the Japanese yen. Crude-oil futures fell 45 cents to $90.79 a barrel.

The Federal Reserve will also hold its second auction of $20 billion in 28-day funds..

Overseas, the People's Bank of China increased its interest rate to 7.47% from 7.29% to combat inflation, while the Bank of Japan held interest rates at 0.5% and said downside risks to the Japanese economy are growing.

The Nikkei 225 ended virtually flat in Tokyo. In London, the FTSE 100 rose 0.6%.

U.S. stocks had ended mixed Wednesday after a volatile day that featured mixed signals on the credit crisis, with a potential downgrade of bond insurers dulling a mostly positive auction of funds to banks by the Federal Reserve. The Dow industrials fell 25 points, the S&P 500 slipped nearly 2 points while the Nasdaq Composite rose nearly 5 points.

Movers

Accenture rose 7.2% after the consulting group posted a 34% profit rise and upped its 2008 earnings outlook. Rival Capgemini rose in Paris trading.

Nike rose 5% after the world's biggest sneaker maker reported a 10% profit rise, topping analyst forecasts.

Ruth's Chris Steak House dropped 6.4% after blamin a weaker economy for a lower of its earnings outlook.

On the M&A front, Eaton Corp. said it's buying two firms valued at as much as $2.8 billion to boost its electrical business.


By Nick Godt

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