Stocks Slide as Bernanke Outlines Exit Strategy

Stocks slipped further into the red Wednesday after Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke outlined the Fed's exit strategy for its unprecedented economic stimulus measures.

Stocks had already been leaning lower as the trade gap widened more than expected and investors digested the latest batch of earnings reports.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down about 40 points at the halfway point. That was less than the 70-point drop it saw right after the Fed chairman's remarks were released but still more than the 20-point decline at the open. This came after the Dow logged its biggest one-day percentage gain in three months on Tuesday.

S&P 500

Industrials were some of the weakest components, including DuPont and Caterpillar. Financials showed some strength, with JPMorgan and Bank of America higher.

Bernanke said low rates were warranted for an extended period but signaled that the Fed's unwinding may begin with the discount rate, the rate the Fed charges banks, which has remained at 0.5 percent since Dec. 2008.

Bernanke's testimony was postponed due to the snowstorm in the Northeast but the text of the testimony was released at 10am ET.


The weather has also wiped out the weekly crude oil inventory report and the Treasury's monthly budget statement. The crude report will now be released at 11am on Friday. The budget report will probably be postponed until next week.

The government also postponed its report on retail sales until Friday. That report had been due on Thursday.

Among the data points released this morning: The trade deficit ballooned to $40.18 billion in December, much wider than expected, amid a sharp rise in petroleum imports.

And mortgage applications fell 1.2 percentlast week, even as as mortgage rates fell, with the fixed 30-year rate again below 5 percent.

Wall Street was also tuned in to talks in Europe about a possible bailout for debt-riddled Greece. But there's no clear EU policy on such a measure, which left a lot of uncertainty.

The Treasury is set to auction $25 billion in 10-Year notes today, with the results available shortly after 1 pm.

Among stocks to watch today:

Sprint Nextel tumbled more than 8 percent after the wireless carrier reported its loss narrowed in the fourth quarter but revenue fell 7 percent as it offered more discounts to entice customers.

Disney beat earnings estimateswith its results after the bell Tuesday. The beat was attributed to cost cuts and strong results at its cable division, though its theme parks remain a concern.

Shares of Baidu, China's largest search engine, jumped after a strong outlook and as Google rattles its saber, threatening to exit the country.

But Google has something else up its sleeve: The Internet titan is planning to build broadband networks that could be up to 100 times faster than what most Americans use, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Home Depot is getting a lot of action ahead of its quarterly results, due out in a couple of weeks.

Dell got a boost as Bank of America/Merrill Lynch upgraded its rating on the stock to "buy" from "neutral."

And JPMorgan added Kraft to its "focus list," saying earnings growth will be slim to none this year but will pick up starting in 2011 with the acquisition of Cadbury.

More bad news for Japanese automakers: While Toyota grapples with a massive recall due to brake problems in some models, Hondaexpanded its recall of 2001 and 2001 Accords, Civics and other models due to a glitch that could cause the airbag to deploy too strongly.

The FAA is reported to be close to finishing a two-year investigation of safety violations at American Airlines that may result in one of the largest fines in the agency's history. The probe involved improperly secured wiring in MD-80 model aircraft.

After the closing bell today, we'll get results from videogame maker Activision Blizzard — fitting, given the snow storm hammering the Northeast today!

Still to Come:

WEDNESDAY: 1o-year auction; Earnings from Activision, Boston Scientific and Prudential after the bell; Chicago auto show starts
THURSDAY: Retail sales; weekly jobless claims; 30-year auction; Earnings from Pepsi, Philip Morris, and Viacom; Fashion week starts; Miami boat show starts
FRIDAY: Consumer sentiment; weekly crude inventories; Treasury budget; Winter Olympics starts

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