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Stocks close lower as investors take profits

Investors collected profits Monday, sending stocks moderately lower after five straight sessions of gains. Disappointing results at Lowes Cos. and a rebound in oil prices raised the possibility of slower earnings growth.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Investors sold stocks moderately lower Monday, ending a five-day rally as rising oil prices and disappointing results from Lowes Cos. raised concerns about a slowdown in consumer spending.

Lowes, the nation’s second-largest home-improvement chain after Home Depot Inc., reported second-quarter profit rose 11 percent. However, the company cut its full-year earnings outlook on worries that higher energy prices and a sluggish housing market will curb consumers willingness to spend.

Wall Street was also troubled by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which sent oil prices up $1.38 to $72.52 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Fears that higher crude prices will limit economic growth sent shares of homebuilders and airlines lower.

The pullback came after last week’s gains pushed major indexes to three-month highs. With little in the way of corporate earnings reports this week and only two major economic reports due out, investors were hard-pressed to extend the rally.

“In general, people are still pretty spooked by the global situation and the Middle East, and are wondering what kind of legs the market has in the short term,” said Phil Dow, director of equity strategy for RBC Dain Rauscher. “There’s not much in the way of expectations for the week, but we could be moving toward a platform for a decent rally.”

Easing tensions in the Middle East helped drive oil prices lower last week, and trigger a rally on Wall Street. Profit-taking after the weeklong rally came on extremely light volume, typical for a late August day with little market-moving news.

At the close, the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 36.42, or 0.32 percent, to 11,345.05. Last week, the Dow Jones rose 2.65 percent.

Broader stock indicators also slid. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 4.78, or 0.35 percent, to 1,297.52, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 16.20, or 0.75 percent, to 2,147.75.

Bonds were little changed, with the benchmark 10-year Treasury note falling to 4.82 percent from 4.84 percent Friday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

Wall Street focused on oil in the absence of other news. However, one portfolio manager contends the impact of higher crude prices on stocks might just be a speed bump.

“The market and the economy have proved that even if oil moves to $80 a barrel, it won’t be a major event,” said Stephen Leeb, whose Leeb Capital Management manages some $110 million of assets.

“On a near-term basis, this won’t be a big deal, but longer term — if we hit that triple-digit figure — it will then start to have more of an effect,” he said.

Among the most heavily traded companies was Lowe’s, which tumbled $1.17, or 4 percent, to $28.35. Rival Home Depot’s shares fell 47 cents to $34.30.

Another declining retailer was discount store chain Dollar General Corp., which lowered guidance for its fiscal second quarter due to higher sales of low-margin goods and a slow back-to-school season. The stock dropped $1.35, or 9.6 percent, to $12.74.

The prospect of higher fuel prices and its affect the economy drove American Airlines-parent AMR Corp. shares down 45 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $20.49. Continental Airlines Inc. shares gave up 93 cents, or 3.8 percent, to $23.44.

Meanwhile, homebuilder Toll Brothers Inc. shares lost $1.02, or 4 percent, to $24.77. Shares of Pulte Homes Inc., the nation’s largest homebuilder, fell 92 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $28.97.

Shares of Ford Motor Co., the second-largest U.S.-based automaker, declined 53 cents, or 6.6 percent, to $7.47 after announcing it would temporarily halt production at 10 assembly plants between now and the end of the year. The stock was downgraded by several analysts, including Credit Suisse moving the automaker to “underperform” from a “neutral” rating.

Investors snapped up shares of Gold Kist Inc. after the company was put into play through an unsolicited $1 billion takeover offer from rival Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. The stock soared $6.09, or 47 percent, to $19.02, while Pilgrim’s Pride rose $1.32, or 5.6 percent, to $24.97.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by an almost 2 to 1 basis on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.12 billion million shares, compared to 1.35 billion traded Friday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 6.35, or 0.89 percent, to 705.33.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average closed 0.88 percent lower. Britain’s FTSE 100 closed up 0.20 percent, Germany’s DAX index fell 0.38 percent, and France’s CAC-40 dropped 0.60 percent.

The prospect of higher fuel prices and its affect the economy drove American Airlines-parent AMR Corp. shares down 54 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $20.40. Continental Airlines Inc. shares gave up 88 cents, or 3.6 percent, to $23.49.