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Financial Stocks Hit by Citi News; Oil Slides

Cindy Perman|CNBC.com
Tuesday, 4 Mar 2008 | 1:34 PM ET

Stocks declined Tuesday, with financials taking a beating after news of more fallout from the subprime mess at Citigroup. Energy stocks also fell as oil prices receded.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, Nasdaq and S&P 500 index were all down more than 1 percent.

Still, some analysts saw cause for optimism -- and in some of the very sectors that were under water Tuesday.

"By the summer, we'll be okay, so it's too late to sell," Mike Holland, chairman of Holland & Co. told CNBC Tuesday. ""Blood in the streets is beginning and it's time to be looking at some things to buy." One of Holland's picks is CNBC parent General Electric .

"I would think that you should absolutely be making a shopping list," added Rich Berg, CEO of Performance Trust Capital Partners. Berg sees regional banks that had nothing to do with the current financial problems as some of the best values.

David Goerz, chief investment officer of Highmark Capital, says he likes industrials and techs.

Just before the market opened, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called for banks to take additional measures to prevent more homeowners from falling into foreclosure. "This situation calls for a vigorous response," Bernanke said in a speech to a banking group in Florida, encouraging banks to do more to combat the problem.

One of the suggestions Bernanke made was for mortgage and other financial companies to reduce the amount of the loan to provide relief to a struggling owner. "Principal reductions that restore some equity for the homeowner may be a relatively more effective means of avoiding deliquency and foreclosure," Bernanke said. (Read the text of the speech.)

Energy stocks skidded as oil prices fell back around $100 a barrel, after coming just shy of $104 a barrel in intraday trading Monday. OPEC is expected to keep output unchanged. ExxonMobil and Chevron were among the Dow's decliners. ConocoPhillips, which has gained 25 percent in the past 12 months, fell after Lehman Brothers cut its rating on the stock to "equal weight" from "overweight."

Financials in Focus

Financials took a beating following news that Citigroup's job cuts could reach 30,000or more over the next year and a half due to more writedowns and comments from the head of Dubai International Capital that the Citi, which has already raised $30 billion, will need "a lot more money."

Several financial stocks, including Citigroup, hit notable lows and the S&P Financial index broke through its January low. Citi, the Dow's top decliner, hit a nine-year low. Lehman Brothers and Freddie Mac also reached new intraday lows.

Merrill Lynch cut its earnings forecast for Citigroup, saying it now expects a first-quarter loss of $1.66 a share, compared with its earlier view of 55 cents a share, amid $15 billion in writedowns related to subprime mortgages, theflyonthewall.com reported.

Among other pressures on financials, Wachovia lowered its earnings estimates for four U.S. investment banks including Bear Stearns , saying the first quarter would be one of the worst in years for the sector.

The municipal bond insurance industry was in the spotlight again after California, the country's largest issuer of municipal bonds, decided to stop using municipal-bond insurance, saying they bring no value to taxpayers in the current market conditions.

Tech Trouble

Chips were crunched after Intel , the world's largest chip maker, lowered its gross margin forecast for the current quarter to 54 percent from 56 percent, citing falling prices of flash-memory chips used in portable electronic devices such as digital cameras and MP3 players.

"The consumer side will stay under pressure" in the technology sector, Stephen Pope, chief market strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald, told "Worldwide Exchange."

Jefferies and Banc of America cut their price targets on Intel to $30 and $21 respectively, theflyonthewall.com reported, but kept their ratings on the the stock. Jefferies has a "buy" rating and Banc of America has a "neutral" rating on Intel.

Intel shares skidded, as did shares of rival AMD. Shares of companies such as Sandisk and Micron Technology, which focus more specifically on that type of chip, were hit even harder.

The Philadelphia Stock Exchange semiconductor index dropped about 1 percent.

Shares of Applied Materials , however, jumped after the chip-equipment maker struck a $1.9 billion deal with a private buyer outside the U.S. The stock is up 10 percent year to date.

Elsewhere in tech, investors are looking to Apple, which hosts its shareholders' meeting this afternoon. A day earlier, two brokerages lowered their price targets on the stock, citing a slowdown in sales of iPods and iPhones as consumers cut back. Apple shares have tumbled about 40 percent in 2008 alone.

Staplesreported its profit was flatas international sales helped offset a slowdown in North American stores. Earnings were $333 million, or 47 cents a share, in line with expectations. The office-equipment retailer also increased its dividend by 14 percent to 33 cents per share.

Barnes & Noble tumbled about 8 percent after the bookseller said its earnings will be below expectations for the entire year.

Best Buy slipped after Banc of America downgraded its rating on the stock to "neutral" from "buy," saying that "many factors that drove Best Buy's 2007 outperformance will reverse," notably television margins. Analyst David Strasser said demand for televisions has weakened as consumers cut back spending while manufacturers are excessively optimistic.

Jackson Hewitt shares plunged to a new low after the tax preparer issued earnings and a profit outlook well short of analysts' forecasts, citing taxpayer procrastination in filing their tax returns. The company now sees 2008 earnings between $1.48 and $1.60 a share, much lower than the $2.11 a share analysts were expecting.

This Week:

TUESDAY: Apple shareholder meeting; Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont primaries
WEDNESDAY: Factory orders; ISM services index; Fed beige book; Pfizer and Intel analyst meetings
THURSDAY: Weekly jobless claims; Retailers' Feb. sales reports; ECB and BOE rate decisions; Disney shareholder meeting
FRIDAY: February jobs report

Send comments to Cindy.Perman@nbcuni.com.

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