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LI stocks rise Wednesday, but aren’t immune to investor fear

Traders work on the floor of the New

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange near the end of the trading day in New York, Jan. 20, 2016. Photo Credit: EPA / ANDREW GOMBERT

An index of 30 publicly traded companies headquartered on Long Island defied the broader market Wednesday, edging up 0.3 percent on a day that the Dow Jones industrial average lost 249 points, or 1.6 percent.

Still, the Newsday Long Island Bloomberg Index is down 6.6 percent so far this year, as investor fears about declining oil prices and stalling global economic growth have put pressure on stocks. The Dow is down 9.5 percent year to date.

Market observers said that, while broad investor worry affects local stocks, the region’s strength in the technology, retail and health care sectors provides some insulation from global economic turmoil.

The Long Island benchmark eked out its Wednesday gain despite a decline in health care product distributor Henry Schein Inc., which lost 1.3 percent to $146.43 and accounts for 19 percent of the index. Like the Dow, the local index is weighted by the prices of its constituent stocks, meaning the more expensive the stock, the bigger its effect on the index.

Among the biggest gainers Wednesday were Lifetime Brands, Inc., up 5.6 percent, and BioSpecifics Technologies Corp., up 5.2 percent.

Wednesday marked the fourth day that the index has had a positive return in 2016 compared to eight down days.

Although many Long Island companies have limited direct exposure to China and the decline in oil prices, their investors are still moving to safe havens such as bonds and gold, said Herman Berliner, dean of Hofstra University’s Frank G. Zarb business school.

“The bearish sense people have of the market will carry over to Long Island stocks,” he said. “There’s no way Long Island stocks will be immune.”

Irwin Kellner, president of Kellner Economic Advisers, a Port Washington economic consultancy, said that a “lemming effect” is maintaining selling pressure on Long Island stocks.

Steven Schwarzman, chief executive officer of private equity firm Blackstone Group LP, in an interview Wednesday with Bloomberg Television from Davos, Switzerland, said several negative forces are playing into the downturn of the broader market.

“You have economic things such as the slowing of the U.S. economy which has been pretty gradual,” he said. “You’ve got energy going down so quickly that you can almost get windburn. You’ve got China as an issue which is probably overdone. So when you put those factors together you have an unattractive brew along with the concern the Federal Reserve will raise rates and slow the economy further.”

Crude oil prices continued their decline Wednesday, falling below $27 a barrel in New York, a phenomenon that Berliner called a “double-edged sword.”

Some Long Island service stations are selling gasoline for under $2 per gallon, a boon to motorists. But the price decline is hurting energy companies, he said.

Mitchell Goldberg, president of ClientFirst Strategy Inc., a Melville investment firm, said the decline in oil prices also is squeezing U.S. banks that made loans to energy companies.

Goldberg said that banks are taking write downs, which can translate to reduced lending. “It causes a credit squeeze,” he said.

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