Stocks Open Lower After Inflation Report

Stocks opened lower Tuesday as a much higher-than-expected jump in inflation at the producer level agitated a market already rattled by worries about the financial sector.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped about 80 points, or 0.6 percent, in the first few minutes of trading. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq were off about 0.5 percent.

Producer prices shot up 1.2 percent in July, double what was expected. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, core PPI rose 0.7 percent. Producer prices are up 9.8 percent from a year earlier, the highest since 1981. (Dig in to the numbers.)

"The producer price index increased much more than expected in July but the news is old news given the recent plunge in commodity prices," Tony Crescenzi of Miller Tabak pointed out in a note to clients.

Crude oil continued its precipitous fall, dropping to around $112 a barrel as fears subsided about potential damage to supply centers by Tropical Storm Fay.

Meanwhile, housing starts fell by 11 percent, slightly less than the 11.8-percent drop that had been expected. Building permits, a gauge of future building activity, fell by 17.7 percent.

Futures were already weak before the numbers as the market was still reeling from Monday's 2 percent drop in major indexes and weakness in foreign trade. Asian stocks closed sharply down while European markets were dragged lower by banks.

Earnings today were all about the retail and it was a mixed bag: Home Depot and Target beat expectations, while Staples and Saks missed their targets.

Home Depot's quarterly profit topped forecasts as consumers took on summer renovation products during what is typically the strongest quarter for the home-improvement retailer. However, same-store sales fell 7.9 percent and Home Depot said it still expects a 24-percent drop in full-year profit.

The results come a day after rival Lowe's reported it surpassed profit and sales expectations, helped by the tax-rebate checks. The company also sees a slowdown in the second halfbut raised its full-year outlook due to the robust second-quarter results.

Target also exceeded expectationsbut same-store sales slipped amid a strong year-earlier comparison and the cheap but chic retailer is working on strategies that focus more on the cheap than the chic to keep up with rival Wal-Mart .

Staples said its second-quarter sales were less than expected due to a 7 percent drop in North American business.

Saks posted a wider-than-expected loss and forecast a drop in its 2008 operating margin, offering the latest indication that even wealthier shoppers are starting to tighten the strings on their designer handbags. Same-store sales are expected to be flat or down in the low single digit percent rate for the second half, a critical period for retailers that includes the holiday-shopping season.

That seems to be the message across the board: All companies, including those that beat second-quarter forecasts, are warning about the rest of the year. A weak second half would surely rattle the market, making the summer rally seem more like a head fake than a market bottom.

Financials took it on the chin again.

A fresh wave of worries about more fallout from the mortgage crisis has washed over the market this week as analysts and economists say the year-old financial crisis -- is not only far from over but -- could actually get much worse.

The latest comment to rattle the market came from IMF chief economist Kenneth Rogoff, who said a large U.S. bank will fail in the next few months.

Financials, including AIG and American Express , were among the biggest drags on the Dow.

Lehman Brothers was off nearly 5 percent. Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan were off more than 3 percent.

In mergers and acquisitions news, CME Group's stranglehold on the futures market grew tighter with the approval of its $7.7 billion purchase of energy and metals trading market NYMEX Holdings.

But despite the markets' consolidation, the speculators' party is over and many hedge funds have been incurring losses, Hugh Hendry, chief investor officer and partner at hedge fund Eclectica, said.

As the crisis unfolds, the policy makers' focus should shift from the threat of inflation to that of the world economic downturn, which could be more severe than economists anticipate, Hendry added.


TUESDAY: Earnings from HP and Analog Devices after the bell
WEDNESDAY: Weekly mortgage applications; crude inventories; Videogame conference in Leipzig, Germany; Earnings from BJ's Wholesale and Limited Brands
THURSDAY: Jobless claims; leading indicators; Philly Fed survey; GM announces investment plans for Ohio plant; Earnings from Gamestop, Heinz, Hormel, Aeropostale, Gap and Intuit
FRIDAY: Fed conference in Jackson Hole begins; Earnings from WPP, AnnTaylor

WATCHERS: Obama is expected to select a running mate this week ahead of the convention

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