Investors overlook strong earnings
NEW YORK » Wall Street's chronic inflation fears sent stocks skidding yesterday as a sharp jump in wholesale prices overshadowed strong profit reports from several Dow Jones industrials. Heavy selling in the energy sector also pressured the major indexes.
Better-than-expected earnings from Johnson & Johnson, IBM Corp. and United Technologies Corp. were overlooked by investors preoccupied by the biggest increase in the Labor Department's Producer Price Index in 15 years. The PPI, which measures prices at the wholesale level, rose 1.9 percent in September on high energy and food costs. With those costs removed, "core" PPI rose 0.3 percent, still higher than the 0.2 percent expected on Wall Street.
While a drop in crude oil futures may have mitigated those inflation concerns, they may have also contributed to a sharp selloff in oil stocks, most notably Dow component Exxon Mobil Corp. A barrel of light crude settled at $63.20, down $1.66, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Aside from the energy sector, analysts said, the selling was relatively moderate, and that many investors seemed to be standing pat, rather than selling off completely.
"It's not that people are saying, 'get me out of this market,' but there's enough headwinds out there that makes it tough to say, 'I want to own this market,'" said Jay Suskind, head trader at Ryan Beck & Co. "There's stocks to buy, there's sectors to buy, there's news every day. But it's hard to jump in here right now with a lot of money."
The Dow fell 62.84, or 0.61 percent, to 10,285.26.
Broader stock indicators also lost ground. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 11.96, or 1.01 percent, to 1,178.14, and the Nasdaq composite index dropped 14.30, or 0.69 percent, to 2,056.
Bonds edged higher as stocks fell, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note falling to 4.48 percent from 4.50 percent late Monday.
In recent weeks, Fed officials have expressed concern over rising oil prices, both in terms of fueling inflation and hampering economic growth. Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, in Tokyo for a speech yesterday, said the jump in energy prices "will undoubtedly be a drag (on the economy) from now on."
With wholesale prices rising, the Fed is likely to continue to raise rates through the end of the year, according to Hugh Johnson, chairman and chief investment officer at Johnson Illington Advisors.
"The fear in the marketplace is that the Fed is going to be seduced by this inflation data into raising rates too high," Johnson said.