Stocks Decline Before Close; Retail Falls

Stocks added to losses in the final minutes of trading amid concerns over the restructuring of European debt issues and a weak earnings outlook offered by U.S. retailers.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 90 points after rising Thursday in the face of weak economic news as investors rallied around LinkedIn's initial public offering. The social networking site for professional rose sharply in its first day of trading, more than doubling its offering price and prompting some analysts to warn about a bubble in social mediastocks.

Alcoa led the blue-chip average lower, while Kraft gained.

TheS&P 500 and the Nasdaq also fell. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, rose more than 9 percent to nearly 17.

Most key S&P 500 sectors declined, led by financials and industrials.

Many market observers expect a rocky patch for stocks in the months ahead. That's because several factors are at work, including the winding down of earnings season and the end of the Federal Reserve's second round of monetary stimulus, known as quantitative easing two (or QE2), in June. At the same time the markets are entering a period of time that tends to be slow for stocks, said Randy Frederick, chief of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab.

"The odds it will be a bullish, solid equity market through summer seems pretty unlikely to me," Frederick said.

Also, the markets have been unusually correlated to the direction of commodities prices, falling along with the price of oil and precious metals, he said.

"I think they will separate, once QE2 goes away, once economic reports are solid enough that it’s clear the economic recovery can stand on its own two feet, then commodity markets can separate from equity markets," Frederick said.

"There was some excitement definitely yesterday over the LinkedIn IPO, but it didn’t make too much headway," said Paul Brigandi, vice president of trading at Direxion Funds. "That set us up for the sell-off today."

The IPO and dovish comments from the Federal Reserve—indicating the central bank doesn't plan to hike interest rates soon—were among the only positives in the market this week, and neither was enough to stop selling driven by increasing evidence of a slowdown in global growth, Brigandi said.

On Friday, the German Bundesbank said the nation may start to see a slowdown in its economy, which would be a further blow to the European Union as it struggles to contain a debt crisis in peripheral nations. Also, Fitch downgraded Greece's credit ratingto junk-bond status.

A global economic slowdown reduces global demand, which is why commodities sold off on Friday, continuing a trend that began earlier this month.

"The 'risk on' trades that have worked so well the last several months, we’re starting to see that unwind," Brigandi said.

The dollar continued to rise on Friday as the euro sank on the news of a slowing German economy and worries over the ability of the EU to restructure Greek debt.

Oil prices turned higher in largely range-bound trading. U.S. light, sweet crude fell 0.16 percent this week to close at $99.49, after rising 1 percent on Friday. In London, Brentcrude fell 1.27 percent for the week to $112.39, after gaining 0.87 percent on Friday.

Precious metals, however, gained. Gold rose 1.03 percent for the week to $1,508.80 an ounce after rising 1.11 percent on Friday. Silver rose 0.2 percent this week to $35.08 an ounce after gaining 0.44 percent on Friday.

Retailers didn't get a good start on Friday. Gap plunged after cutting its profit outlook for the year, citing the rising cost of cotton. Aeropostale also sank after sales fell short of expectations. At least five brokerages cut their price targets for the teen retailer, while Stifel Nicolaus cut its rating on the stock to "hold" from "buy."

AnnTaylor Stores also fell despite a 21 percent gain in first-quarter earnings as it reported a drop in margins.

Salesforce soared after beating sales expectations, and after at least five brokerages raised their price targets for the stock. First quarter profit for the cloud computing company sank 97 percent, however.

On the M&A front, Barnes & Noble skyrocketed after news Liberty Media has proposed buying the bookstore chainfor $1.02 billion.

In Europe, shares ended loweron worries about the Greek debt crisis.

On Tap Next Week:

MONDAY: Chicago Fed National Activity Index; St. Louis Fed President James Bullard speaks; Wind Power 2011 conference; earnings before-the-bell from Campbell Soup.
TUESDAY: New home sales, Richmond Fed Business Activity Survey, two-year Treasury note auction; Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig speaks; Boeing Investor meeting; FDIC report on Q1 bank earnings.
WEDNESDAY: Mortgage applications, durable goods orders, oil inventories, five-year Treasury note auction; Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota speaks; USDA Food Prices Outlook, BlackRock shareholder meeting, ExxonMobil shareholder meeting, Yahoo investor day; earnings before-the-bell from Costco and Polo Ralph Lauren.
THURSDAY: GDP, USDA Agricultural Trade Outlook, jobless claims, corporate profits, natural gas inventories, seven-year Treasury note auction, money supply; earnings before-the-bell from Sony and Tiffany.
FRIDAY: Personal income and spending, consumer sentiment, and pending home sales.

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