US open: Equity investors keep the faith

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LONDON (ShareCast) - US markets shook off a disappointing fourth quarter GDP figure to open just slightly down on Wednesday.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell just 0.1% to 1,507 in New York, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average was also down 0.1 percent, to 13,942.

Amazon, the world's biggest online retailer, rose 4.5% after it reported a rise in both sales and North American operating margin.

One person probably not happy about Chesapeake Energy (Other OTC: CHKDP - news) 's 7.2% rise was Chief Executive Officer Aubrey McClendon, coming, as it did, on the back of the announcement of his retirement.

Economists had predicted GDP growth to the tune of around 1.1% but the number came in at -0.1% as huge defence cuts began to bite.

It was the first fall in US GDP in three-and-a-half years - the last drop was in the second quarter of 2009 when the country was in recession.

The latest figures showed government spending fell 6.6% in the fourth quarter, while companies cut back on inventories to the tune of 1.3%.

Trade also held the economy back, as exports fell 5.7% during the quarter.

One market commentator remarked that "the bulls are immortal".

However, another said the headline figure was misleading and the US economy was in better shape than it suggested.

In fact, Peter Newland at Barclays (LSE: BARC.L - news) pointed out the tone of the report was positive when inventories and defence were excluded.

Private consumption growth picked up to 2.2% in Q4 from 1.6% in Q3.

Fixed investment saw growth jump from 0.9% to to 9.7% , reflecting gains in equipment and software (12.4%) and residential (15.3%), which more than offset a small decline in structures (-1.1%).

The ongoing bullish tone was supported by separate figures which showed a healthy rise in employment in the US.

Private-sector jobs in the country increased by 192,000 in January, according to a national employment report calculated by payroll processor Automatic Data Processing (NasdaqGS: ADP - news) .

Forecasters had predicted that the number was more likely to come in around 165,000.