Wall Street gives up ground after massive gains Monday


POSTED: Wednesday, March 25, 2009

NEW YORK » A stock drop is never reassuring — except when it could have been worse.

The Dow Jones industrial average shed 115 points, or 1.5 per-cent yesterday. But it also held on to 382 of the 498 points it racked up a day earlier.

Market analysts said, though, that a pullback was expected given the massive gains Wall Street logged the day before when the government released plans to remove bad loans from banks' books.

“;We'll take that trading pattern any time,”; said Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co. He said he came into work anticipating the Dow to drop as much as 2 percent yesterday after the index jumped 6.8 percent Monday — its biggest gain since late October.

The Dow was up more than 1,200 points after hitting nearly 12-year lows on March 9, and there was little in a way of positive economic or corporate data yesterday to lift stocks further.

If Wall Street gets more good news, stocks could resume their rise. But if it doesn't, the rest of Monday's rally, and then some, could be wiped out.

Later this week, some big economic reports are scheduled to come out: durable goods for February, a revised fourth-quarter gross domestic product number, and personal income and spending for February. And next month, first-quarter earnings reports start pouring in.

Thomas J. Lee, a stock market analyst at JPMorgan, said the market's ability to hang on to most of its rally was encouraging. But, he added, “;This has definitely been a show-me market.”;

The Dow fell 115.89, or 1.5 percent, to 7,659.97. The index fell in early trading, rose briefly in afternoon trading, and then turned lower again.

Broader stock indicators also tumbled. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 16.57, or 2 percent, to 806.35, and the Nasdaq fell 39.25, or 2.5 percent, to 1,516.52.

The bulk of yesterday's market retreat was in financial stocks — the companies that have been rising the most recently.

Citigroup Inc. fell 3.5 percent yesterday; Bank of America Corp. fell 7.2 percent; JPMorgan Chase & Co. fell 8.6 percent; and American Express Co. fell 3.8 percent. These four Dow components had surged Monday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 16.94, or 3.9 percent, to 416.78.

The dollar was mostly higher against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.

Oil gained 18 cents to settle at $53.98 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.