Stocks fall despite retail sales advance
NEW YORK » Wall Street pulled back yesterday after new signs of weakness in the housing market prompted investors to look past a rebound in major retailers' sales figures.
A weak forecast from Toll Brothers Inc., the nation's largest builder of luxury homes, pressured housing stocks and rekindled concerns about whether the slumping housing market would hurt the economy. And HSBC Holdings PLC, the European bank, announced an increase in its provisions for soured mortgage loans, which hurt shares of U.S. banks.
Investors were hoping for news or data that would send stocks higher after days of largely meandering trading, but they didn't find it in generally decent retail sales reports.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, topped Wall Street's forecast though the month's increase was modest.
"I don't think there is any one thing to point to as a catalyst but just the aggregation of a couple of small things," Jack Caffrey, equity strategist for JPMorgan Private Bank, said of the day's trading. "I think there is a growing recognition that we have come so far with a stutter or a stumble."
"There's certainly not a sense of panic and I think people still have an interest in buying if they can get an attractive entry point."
The Dow industrials fell 29.24, or 0.23 percent, to 12,637.63. Broader stock indicators also fell. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was down 1.71, or 0.12 percent, at 1,448.31, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 1.83, or 0.07 percent, to 2,488.67.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 0.19, or 0.02 percent, to 816.39. The index passed 800 for the first time last week and set new closing and trading highs for the second straight day. The previous closing and trading high was 816.20.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers by about 6 to 5 on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to 2.81 billion shares.
Bond prices rose as stocks retreated. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 4.73 percent from 4.74 percent late Wednesday.
The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.
Energy traders rushed back into the market amid frigid temperatures in the U.S. and after Occidental Petroleum Corp. shut a field in California following a fire. Light, sweet crude settled up $2 at $59.71 per barrel, its highest price this year on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The market seemed little moved by the U.S. Commerce Department's report that wholesale inventories fell 0.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted $393.76 billion. Analysts had expected an increase of 0.5 percent.