Stocks Sway in Hurricane, Dollar Winds

Stocks swayed between positive and negative territory Tuesday, caught in the crossbreezes of a strong dollar and Hurricane Gustav.

Crude oil rose more than $1 a barrel, topping $116 a barrel, amid concerns that Hurricane Gustav, which was upgraded to a Level 1 hurricane, could disrupt supplies. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said it could hit the Gulf as a powerful Category 3 storm by Sunday.

The dollar continued to gather strength, hitting a six-month high against the euro after a report showed German business sentiment fell to a three-year low in August, increasing expectations that the economy will tip into a recession.

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In economic news, prices of U.S. single-family homes dropped by a record 15.4 percentin the second quarter, according to a Standard & Poor's/Case Shiller report. However, the monthly rate of decline slowed in June from May, suggesting that the housing sector may be stabilizing.

New-home sales rose to an annual pace of 515,000 in July from the 17-year low of 503,000 in June, but still fell short of forecasts. The June number was revised downward from the prior estimate of 530,000. Economists had expected the number to hold steady at 530,000. The inventory of homes for sale dropped by 5.2 percen to 416,000, the lowest level since October 2004.

The Conference Board's gauge of consumer confidence jumped to 56.9 in August from 51.9 in July, blowing past expectations for a reading of 53.

U.S. chain-store sales grew 0.2 percent last week, strengthening slightly from the prior week's 0.1-percent increase, the International Council of Shopping Centers and UBS Securities said.

World stocks hit their lowest level in nearly two years as a worsening German business mood and fresh concerns about financial firms triggered a sell-off in risky assets.

Lehman Brothers was expected to be back in the spotlight as speculation continues to swirl about the firm. Private-equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts has a "high level of interest" in buying Lehman's crown jewel, the Neuberger & Berman money-management firm, CNBC reported. Korea Development Bank has also been bandied about as a possible suitor but has raised concerns among Korean regulators.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac soared once again. The home-financing giants said their investment portfolios grew in July but delinquencies reached record levels, pressuring their capital positions. Citigroup said the two probably have enough capital to absorb losses through the end of the year. The companies are currently meeting regulator deadlines for rolling over their debt.

Shares of Fannie and Freddie also rallied on Monday as a $2 billion debt sale by Freddie triggered some speculation that the firms wouldn't need a bailout.

General Motors said Two Gulf Arab investors have expressed interest in buying its Hummer brand.

Rival Ford announced plans to spend $75 million to retool a Michigan SUV plant in order to build more cars and fuel-efficient vehicles.

In earnings news, corporate miner Rio Tinto posted a 55 percent jump in first-half profit, on the back of its 2007 takeover of Alcan and strong Chinese demand, and raised its dividend.

Delta Air Lines said it tapped a $1 billion loan ahead of its planned merger with Northwest Airlines and renegotiated its credit-card agreement to ensure revenue is turned over in a timely manner.


MONDAY-THURSDAY: Democratic National Convention in Denver

TUESDAY: ICSC chain-store sales; Case-Shiller home-price index; new-home sales; Richmond Fed report; consumer confidence; Fed minutes; Census bureau releases 2007 stats; Farmers' Almanac 2009 hits stores, predicts colder winter; Earnings from Smithfield Foods, Big Lots
WEDNESDAY: Weekly mortgage applications; durable goods; Fed's Lockhart speaks; weekly crude inventories; Report from Chicago Fed; Earnings from American Eagle, Dollar Tree
THURSDAY: Jobless claims; GDP, corporate profits; natural-gas inventories; Earnings from Sears Holdings, Tiffany and Dell; Barack Obama's acceptance speech
FRIDAY: Personal income and spending; Chicago manuf. report; consumer sentiment; farm prices

WATCHERS: McCain VP announcement

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