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Stocks Open Lower; Health-Care Climbs

CNBC.com
Monday, 22 Mar 2010 | 9:52 AM ET

Stocks opened lower as the dollar gained amid worries about Greece's debt crisis. Health-care stocks were one of the few sectors higher today following the weekend passage of U.S. health-care reform.

The Dow was down about 40 points at the open, led by Alcoa , GE and Chevron .

The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved the health-care bill, which expands coverage to nearly all Americans and delivers a landmark victory to President Obama.

Health-care stocks had been beaten down in the months leading up to the bill's passage. Now, with the uncertainty about the legislation lifted, market pros are saying they think health care will outperform the broader market.

Aetna , WellPoint and Humana were all higher at the opening bell. Merck and Pfizer were among the top gainers on the Dow.

European shares were in the red with pharmaceutical stocks falling in the wake of the U.S. health care bill. Asian indexes were mostly lower at their close as concerns over Greece dampened investor sentiment.

Overall, Wall Street's major averages are coming off their third straight week of gains despite modest losses on Friday. Now that the health care reform bill has been voted upon, investor attention may turn on another subject hitting close to home: financial regulation reform, as that effort moves back into the Capitol Hill spotlight this week.

No major economic numbers are on the calendar Monday morning. But there are two retail earnings reports of note, with the latest quarterly results coming from household products seller Williams-Sonoma and high-end retailer Tiffany .

Williams-Sonoma shares rose after the retailer beat profit expectations as it kept a lid on costs and enjoyed robust holiday sales.

Tiffany shares decliend after the high-end jeweler missed its fourth-quarter earnings target but projected its full-year profit would beat expectations.

Overseas, investors continue to focus be on Greece's debt situation, with EU ministers set to meet this week. The euro has slipped to a three-week low amid concern about Greece, and the firming of the dollar is putting downward pressure on oil prices.

The Lundberg Letter reports the average retail price of gasoline in the U.S. rose 8.62 cents to $2.81 per gallon over the past two weeks, as retailers raised their profit margins. It was the second consecutive two-week period that saw an increase.

St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said on CNBC this morning that the "extended period" language in the Fed statement is too restrictive and should be changed.

"I think the extended period language is putting us in a box. The truth is that it (raising the rate) will depend on the data," Bullard said.

Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart is scheduled to deliver a speech in Naples, Fla., at 3:45 pm ET.

This Week:

MONDAY: Geithner speaks; Fed's Lockhart speaks
TUESDAY: Fed's Plosser, Yellen speak; existing-home sales; two-year Treasury auction; Earnings from KB Home, Walgreens and Adobe
WEDNESDAY: Weekly mortgage apps; durable-goods orders; new-home sales; weekly crude inventories; Fed's Hoenig speaks; five-year auction
THURSDAY: Toyota class-action hearing; weekly jobless claims; Fed's Pianalto speaks; seven-year auction; Earnings from Best Buy and Oracle
FRIDAY: Final read on Q4 GDP; consumer sentiment; Fed's Warsh, Bullard speak

Send comments to cindy.perman@nbcuni.com.

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