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Wall Street Beat: Katrina spooks investors

Wall Street Beat: Katrina spooks investors

Hurricane Katrina's devastating tear through the Southeastern U.S. also left a mark on the financial markets, which saw already-high oil prices soar amid concerns about the hurricane's impact on oil production in the region. Insurers expect the storm to be the most expensive in U.S. history, and economists forecast that its aftermath will shave several points off the U.S. GDP (gross domestic product) as the country copes with the near-complete destruction of one of its major cites, New Orleans.

The Nasdaq Composite Index slipped a hair, losing 4.19 points to end Thursday at 2,148, up from last Thursday's close of 2,134. Mitigating investors' concerns about Katrina's impact are expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve will halt its interest rate hikes, as the country struggles to deal with the storm's repercussions.

Among tech stocks, Apple Computer Inc. enjoyed a spike in trading volume on Tuesday when news surfaced that the company is expected to launch next week a mobile phone that can play and store music. The company's likely partners in the venture are Motorola Inc. and Cingular Wireless LLC. Apple's shares (ticker symbol: AAPL) doubled their trading volume Tuesday and ended the day up 2 percent, at US$45.84, on the Nasdaq exchange. Its shares closed Thursday at $46.26. Motorola (ticker symbol: MOT) also enjoyed a lift, with its shares ending Tuesday trading up 3 percent, at $21.92, on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

Software maker BMC Software Inc. announced Monday the surprise departure of its chief financial officer (CFO), George Harrington, who left "by mutual agreement" after less than two years with the company. BMC's treasurer stepped in to fill the job on an interim basis while the company conducts a CFO search. BMC's shares (ticker symbol: BMC) ended Monday down 2 percent, at $19.98, in trading on the NYSE.

EMC Corp.'s shares (ticker symbol: EMC) picked up 2 percent Thursday as the company released its high-end EMC Symmetrix DMX-3 storage system, announced in July. The first fully loaded, 960-drive array shipped to a customer this week, the company said. EMC's shares closed Thursday at $13.08 on the NYSE.

Application testing software maker Mercury Interactive Corp. said Monday it will need to restate financial results for fiscal year 2002 through the first quarter of fiscal 2005 after an internal investigation turned up problems with its past accounting for stock option grants. Mercury warned in July of the likely restatement, and is currently trading on the Nasdaq exchange under a modified stock symbol -- MERQE rather than MERQ -- to indicate its delinquency in filing its latest quarterly report.

Investors reacted calmly to the news, which Mercury disclosed after the market's close on Monday. Mercury shares fell only 6 cents on Tuesday, ending trading at $36.88. Smith Barney financial analyst Tom Berquist dismissed the news as "more of an inconvenience than a material event."

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