Stocks Simmer as Banks Cool Bailout Rally

Stocks traded mixed heading into the afternoon after weakness in big banks trumped enthusiasm over the auto bailout.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up about 100 points in the first few minutes of trading, after sliding more than 300 points in the past two sessions. The gains, though, faded through morning trade, as some of the enthusiasm for the bailout wore off and auto shares were near their daily lows.

A downgrade against some of the largest financial institutions sent the Dow briefly negative.

"Allowing the U.S auto industry to collapse is not a viable course of action," Bush said.

Under terms of the rescue plan, auto makers will be provided with $13.4 billion in short-term financing from the TARP, with another $4 billion available in February, but must agree to use the funds to become financially viable. They will also have open their books to the government, agree to limit executive compensation and eliminate perks like corporate jets. The government debt will become senior to all other debt.

General Motors shares shot up 15 percent, while Ford gained about half that, but surrendered some of those gains after the initial bailout euphoria evaporated.

Banks were mixed after Standard & Poor's cut its rating or outlook on 12 major financial institutions in the US and Europe.

Among those hit were Goldman Sachs , Bank of America and Citigroup. S&P said the downgrades reflected the difficult economic environment.

Citi led losers on the Dow while pharma giant Merck was among the index's biggest gainers following GM.

Crude oil continued to slide, trading below $35 a barrel . But energy producers reversed earlier losses, with BP and Dow component ExxonMobil posting gains.

The market also is looking at a quadruple witching Friday, which means the expiration of options and futures contracts across the board. Specifically, the market index, market index options, stock options and stock futures contracts each expire.

The event generally is considered ripe for volatility as traders unwind positions and purchase other contracts as hedges.

Meanwhile, bond fund Pimco turned down a debt-exchange offer from GMAC, threatening the company's bid to qualify for U.S. government funds, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In earnings news, Oracle shares rose after the business software maker hit its earnings target, though sales fell short, shaved by the strong dollar and economic slowdown.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion also met forecasts and delivered a rosier-than-expected outlookfor the holiday quarter amid strong smartphone sales.

In a new twist in the Madoff saga, Irving Picard, the court-appointed trustee for the liquidation of Bernard L Madoff Investments Securities, hired Lazard Freres to help sell the trading operations of Madoff's company, according to the firm's Web site.

And a former Lehman Brothers salesman was charged with insider trading after he tipped friends and relatives with inside information about 13 impending mergers by divulging confidential information he got from his wife, a public relations executive.

Asian stocks trimmed gains after the Bank of Japan slashed rates to 0.10 percent, while European shares were down 2 percent in mid-morning trading.