Stocks Retreat as Dollar Climbs; Palm Skids

Stocks declined Friday as the dollar advanced and oil prices fell.

Plus, uncertainty over the health and financial-reform bills unsettled the market. And quadruple witching, the expiration of four key futures and options contracts, added another couple of layers of volatility to the market.

The Dow and S&P were down more than 0.5 percent, with 3M and Bank of America near the bottom of the pack.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq was harder hit, down nearly 1 percent. Techs were down across the board, with Garmin, Applied Materials, Apple and Google among the biggest percentage decliners on the Nasdaq.

Palmshares tumbled more than 20 percent as several analysts downgraded their ratings or price targets on the stock after the hand-held gadget maker's disappointing results. Company executives told analysts on a conference call Thursday that fourth-quarter revenue will be less than $150 million, compared with analysts' expectations of around $306 million, according to Thomson Reuters.

This came after an eight-day wining streak for stocks. Gains have been modest but this streak was the longest since an eight-day run last August.

Boeing shares opened higher after the aerospace giant announced plans to bump up production of two aircraft— the 777 and 747 — to meet increased demand.

Ford shares slipped after the Wall Street Journal reported that the chairman of China's Zhejiang Holding Group said talks to acquire Ford's unprofitable Volvo unit have been held up over unspecified issues at Ford.

Ford's shares earlier this week hit a five-year high after Moody's upgraded the automaker's debt and said its finances were likely to improve even more.

Car sales for March are accelerating past analyst expectations. An article in Friday's Journal says sales are picking up speed, and that even troubled Toyota is showing dramatic increases in sales as the month moves on.

Health-related stocks were also mixed as last-minute bargaining on the health-care reform bill continues. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told CNBC that he is "close" to securing enough votesfor passage of the bill. Right now, projections are that a vote may happen on Sunday afternoon.

Market pros said the prognosis for the health-care sector is good either way but Wall Street was a little rattled by provisions in the bill that increase taxes on high-income individuals and add new taxes on investment income.

"For investors and traders, the House passing the Senate version of the bill will be seen as a positive — but more for removing the uncertainty factor rather than a boost to the overall economy," said Todd Schoenberger, managing director at LandColt trading.

"Don't be surprised if you see a rally take place in medical device companies, labs, and health equipment manufacturers next week" if the bill passes, he said.

Aetna was up about 1 percent after the insurer said it expects first-quarter earnings to top Wall Street estimates, but held onto its prior forecast for the full year.

The Food and Drug Administration backed a new use for Boston Scientific's Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy Defibrillators for use on patients with heart failures.

Asian markets closed higher while European shares hit a 17-month high, with bailed-out British bank Lloyds Banking Group surging after it said it will return to a profit this year.

Here in the U.S., bank stocks were mixed as Congress works out a financial-reform bill. FDIC Chair Sheila Bair said she is worried that the Senate bill allows back-door bailoutsof large financial firms.

Big banks including Bank of America and JPMorgan were lower in early trading, while regional banks were mostly higher.

There are new indications that Googlemay shut down its Chinese Web site, with an announcement expected Monday, according to some published reports. Google itself is declining comment.

Best Buy shares rose about 2 percent after Goldman Sachs upgraded its rating on the stock to "buy" from "neutral," citing upside potential from new TV products among the reasons.

Synaptics shares slipped after Oppenheimer dowgraded the touch-screen technology maker to "perform" from "outperform."

And SunPower shares fell sharply, a day after the solar company reported a 70 drop in fourt-quarter profit and predicted a weak year ahead.

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