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Profit-Taking Puts Lid on Rally; Visa Surges

An early rally fizzled Wednesday amid profit-taking from the prior session's rally and lingering concerns about credit.

"Consumer credit issues continue to put stress on the market as seen Discover Financial's results today," said Steve Neimeth, portfolio manager at AIG SunAmerica in Jersey City, N.J. "We have yet to see major issues with commercial credit but investors are increasingly cautious that problems there are just around the corner," Neimeth said.

Discover Financial , the No. 4 U.S. credit-card network, reported its net income fell 65 percent but topped forecasts amid a charge related to sale of its U.K. credit-card unit. Lower borrowing costs were what helped Discover beat expectations even as consumer spending slowed. Discover, which was spun off from Morgan Stanley last year, said its 30-day delinquency rate rose 62 basis points from last year to 3.93 percent.

Meanwhile, shares of Visa surged as high as $69 a share as the largest U.S. credit-card provider made its debut on the the New York Stock Exchange. Shares had priced at $44, raising $17.9 billion in the largest initial public offering in U.S. history.

JP Morgan , which stands to make $1 billion from the Visa IPO, saw its shares rise more than 3 percent, making the stock the biggest gainer on the Dow.

"There are two ways we would go with [Visa] stock," David Menlow, president of IPOFinancial.com, told CNBC. "You buy it when it goes down and you buy it when it goes up, because they are the biggest and the best at what they do. They overshadow what happens with MasterCard ... Their growth and expansion plans are really staggering."

Among other credit-card providers, shares of Mastercard rose while American Express declined.

Crude oil pulled back below $104 a barrel Wednesday after the Energy Department reported that crude inventories rose by 200,000 barrels last week, well below the 2.1-million increase expected. Gasoline inventories unexpectedly shrank.

Energy stocks, including Dow components Exxon Mobil and Chevron , declined.

In the wake of all the Fed actions in the past week and the collapse of Bear Stearns, there's a lot of buzz in the market that we have already seen the bottom.

"I think we’re at the bottom of this so-called crisis. And I think we move higher from here," Fritz Meyer, senior investment officer at AIM Investments, told CNBC. "The Fed’s been fumbling around for the right key to unlock the liquidity log jam … I think they finally found it."

Neimeth agrees. "There are many investors who have huge cash on the sidelines," Neimeth said, referring to massive growth in money-market funds in the past three months. "This suggests to me that we're unlikely to get major capitulation. People put that money to work on dips."

Indeed, there is a lot of money on the sidelines. Long-term investors pumped a record amount of money into cash holdings in March, according to a Merrill Lynch survey of nearly 200 fund managers. Their appetite for risk dwindled near a record low as many felt there wasn't a compelling reason to jump off the sidelines just yet.

The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight lowered the capital requirementon government-backed mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to 20 percent from 30 percent, a move that will provide up to $200 billion in immediate liquidity for stressed mortgage markets.

Morgan Stanley reported its profit dropped by one-third but beat expectations. Net income came in at $1.45 a share, blowing past estimates of $1.03 a share.

The news from Morgan comes a day after Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs cheered the markets yesterday with smaller-than-expected declines in revenue.

News has emerged that both Lehman and Goldman have tapped the Federal Reserve's so-called discount windowafter the central bank took the unprecedented step over the weekend of opening the window to investment banks. Lehman borrowed $2 billion, sources said. It is unclear how much Goldman requested.

Bear Stearns shares pulled back after rallying above $6 a share this morning. Analysts are closely watching the stocks's unusual jumps after J.P. Morgan's weekend offer to buy the firm for $2 a share.

MF Global rallied for a second day, after taking a beating on Monday amid liquidity concerns. The largest futures brokerage on Tuesday announced that it is increasing margin requirements in its equities-derivatives business.

General Mills, which makes cereal, yogurt, soup and other packaged foods, reported its net income soared 61 percent, helped by cost-cutting measures, commodities hedges and higher sales.

In the technology sector, Adobe shares advanced after the software maker beat earnings forecasts.

Priceline slipped after Susquehanna Financial lowered its rating on the stock to "neutral" from "positive." Analyst Marianne Wolk recommended that investors look at lower-valued stocks in the sector such as Google or eBay .

This Week:

WEDNESDAY: Starbucks shareholder meeting; Crude inventories; New York Auto Show preview
THURSDAY: Weekly jobless claims; Philly Fed report; FedEx earnings; Bond market closes early
FRIDAY: Financial markets closed for Good Friday holiday

Send comments to cindy.perman@nbcuni.com.