There was a smorgasbord of market-moving news out there today but the market's pullback may have been nothing more than a time out after the recent rally.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down nearly 110 points, or 0.9 percent, at 12422.86 Wednesday. The Nasdaq shed 0.7 percent and the S&P 500 relinquished 0.9 percent.
"We tend to forget that we've come a long way in a hurry," said Jim Paulsen, a strategist for Wells Capital Management in Minneapolis.
"We've had a phenomenal run here over the last week or so since the Bear Stearns news broke," added Dave Twibell, president of wealth management at Colorado Capital Bank. "I think this is market participants booking some profits and trying to determine whether or not we have a sustainable rally at this point."
"We can't go up 5 percent every week," Twibell said.
Crude oilsurged above $106 a barrelafter an EIA report showed crude inventories held steady at 311.8 million barrels last week. Economists had expected a 1.7 billion-barrel build.
The implication for fuel prices, coupled with news that American Airlines parent AMR had canceled nearly 10 percent of its flights Wednesday to check wiring in some of its fleet, sent airline stocks tumbling. The American Stock Exchange Airline index lost nearly 6 percent.
Energy stocks, of course, advanced, with the S&P 500 financial index ending up 2 percent. ExxonMobil and Chevron were among the few gainers on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Durable-goods orders fell 1.7 percent in February, after a revised decline of 4.7 percent in January, the Commerce Department reported. Economists had expected durable-goods orders to rise 0.8 percent, according to a Reuters survey. Nondefense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a key gauge of capital spending, dropped 2.6 percent.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson also rattled the market's cage after he said the collapse of Bear Stearns highlights the government’s need to strengthen and clarify rules governing the financial sector– from commercial banks to investment houses.
Notably, the decision to allow investment banks access to the Federal Reserve’s discount window should be reviewed after six months, Paulson said in a speech before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Paulson also said that the government shouldn't interfere with an "inevitable" drop in home prices but rather work to contain the impact on the broader economy.
"A correction was inevitable and the sooner we work through it, with a minimum of disorder, the sooner we will see home values stabilize, more buyers return to the housing market, and housing will again contribute to economic growth," Paulson said in prepared remarks.
Profit Worries Slam Bank Stocks
Financials were one of the day's biggest decliners, with the S&P 500 financial index down more than 3 percent.
Citigroup led Dow decliners after Oppenheimer slashed its earnings estimates on the four largest U.S. banks, citing the likelihood of more write-downs. The other three were: JPMorgan , Bank of America and Wachovia .
There is "no clear end in sight" to downward pressure on bank earnings, Oppenheimer analyst Meredith Whitney wrote in a note accompanying the decision.
Goldman Sachs also cut its earnings estimate for Bank of America amid continued weakness in the credit markets, which could force additional write-downs, analyst Brian Foran said. He estimates the bank will take a $3 billion write-down in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, the $20 billion leveraged buyout of U.S. radio operator Clear Channel Communications is in jeopardy, the Wall Street Journal reported. Sources told Reuters the sticking point is that banks financing the deal are unwilling to take a mark-to-market loss.
Asset writedowns and disruption to revenue stemming from the global credit turmoil could put Deutsche Bank's profit goal for this year at risk, the bank said in its annual report.
The saga of Bear Stearns continued as two U.S. pension funds have asked a Delaware court for an emergency order to delay JPMorgan from moving forward with its takeover plans. Bear Stearns shares were up nearly 10 percent at one point amid rumors that JPMorgan may increase its offer, which is now at about $10 a share, a second time.
Meanwhile, more than 100 JPMorgan staffers moved into Bear Stearns' New York offices to begin the integration process, and more than 100 protesters from a homeowners' group demonstrated in the lobby of Bear Stearns, saying the Fed should be helping out on Main Street, not Wall Street.
It was a lot of drama for one day, but there were some pockets of optimism in the market.
David Bianco, chief equity strategist at UBS, said his team expects to see 20 percent growth in the S&P 500 by year end amid a lot of upside surprises in earnings from from nonfinancial companies.
That was an encouraging forecast, particularly after this morning's report in the Wall Street Journal that suggested we may be in a lost decades for stocks, with the inflation-adjusted return on an average investment in the S&P 500 at the same level as it was nine years ago.
Brian Rauscher, director of portfolio strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman told CNBC that he expects S&P 500 operating earnings per share, excluding financials and homebuilders, to be up about 9 to 11 percent. Including those battered categories, S&P earnings will likely be down about 12 percent, he said. (Read the full Market Insider post.)
Report Leaves the Light on for Housing
One bit of encouraging news that seemed to get overlooked today was the report that new-home sales fell less than expectedin February and inventories declined slightly.
The report adds to a growing list of indicators that hint that housing may be bottoming, Paulsen points out. "Not that it says housing is going to recover soon," Paulsen said, "but that it may find a bottom in the second quarter."
Shares of homebuilders fell sharply, with Hovnanian and Centex posting some of the sharpest declines.
Motorola said it would split into two separate, publicly traded firms, separating its money-losing handset division from the rest of its business.
Shares of Sprint and Clearwire advanced amid reports that the companies are in talks with the two biggest U.S. cable operators to form a nationwide wireless network. The $3 billion joint venture would be funded in part by a $1 billion contribution from Comcast and $500 million from Time Warner.
Elsewhere in tech land, Jabil Circuit shares skidded after the electronics-parts maker said late Tuesday that revenue in the second half will be consistent with the first half, which is lower than many analysts had expected. JPMorgan lowered its rating on the stock to "underweight" from "overweight."
Shares of Oracle slipped ahead of the software maker's earnings. After the closing bell, Oracle reported that its profit rose 30 percent, as expected, but revenue fell short of forecasts. Oracle shares dropped 8 percent in the first 15 minutes of after-hours trading.
Ford announced plans to sell its luxury brands Jaguar and Land Rover to India's Tata Motorsfor $2.3 billion. The sale is expected to close by the end of the next quarter.
THURSDAY: GDP; jobless claims; Lennar earnings; Fed auction
FRIDAY: Personal income and spending; consumer sentiment; KB Home earnings
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