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Stocks close down sharply as financials fall

Wall Street again surrendered to investors’ anxiety about the financial sector Monday, sending the Dow Jones industrials down 240 points and back into bear market territory.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Wall Street again surrendered to investors’ anxiety about the financial sector Monday, sending the Dow Jones industrials down 240 points and back into bear market territory. The flight from equities sent investors into safe-haven bets like Treasury bonds.

Financials that had rallied in recent weeks after logging huge declines, suffered from the same worries about souring debt that caused an abrupt end to their run-up late last week. Wall Street is concerned that a further withering of the housing and credit markets will damage bank balance sheets.

An International Monetary Fund report added to some of the stress in the market. The IMF predicted continuing problems in the credit and housing market that will continue to hurt the financial industry. It said, “at the moment a bottom for the housing market is not visible.”

Frederic Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co., said investors are still trying to get a longer-term view on the stability of the banking industry, particularly the regional banks.

“Corporate depositors and individual depositors are looking at balances at individual financial institutions. I think that’s unsettling some of the banks.”

On Friday, federal officials closed branches of the 1st National Bank of Nevada and First Heritage Bank N.A. — owned by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based First National Bank Holding Co., adding to investors’ jitters about the ability of some banks to stay afloat.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 239.61, or 2.11 percent, to 11,131.08.

Broader stock indicators also declined. The Nasdaq composite index also fell into bear market territory, shedding 46.31, or 2.00 percent, to 2,264.22. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index declined 23.39, or 1.86 percent, to 1,234.37; it has been in bear territory for the past few weeks.

Bond prices jumped as investors again sought the safety of government debt. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell to 4.01 percent from 4.10 percent from late Friday.

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

Monday’s pall over the market wasn’t solely because of flagging confidence in the financial sector. Investors are also waiting to see whether oil prices’ sharp drop of recent weeks has come to an end, or is just pausing. Light, sweet crude rose $2.23 to settle at $123.26 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The troubles that banks are having with bad debt underscore the difficulty that consumers are facing not only in keeping on top of their mortgages but to make their credit card and car payments. That is leading to worries about the broader economy. Investors should get some insight with big economic reports due at the end of this week.

On Thursday, investors will be looking for the first report on gross domestic product for the second quarter. Economists polled by Thomson Financial/IFR expect the Commerce Department to report that gross domestic product rose thanks in part to the government’s tax rebate checks.

Then, on Friday, Wall Street will be awaiting the employment report for June. Often such reports are regarded as the most important economic readings of the month because of the insight into the well-being of the consumer. Their health is important because consumers account for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity. The latest Labor Department report is expected to show the seventh month of jobs losses and that the unemployment rate ticked higher.

Dave Rovelli, managing director of U.S. equity trading at Canaccord Adams, said investors were selling off financial shares because of their continued concerns about housing.

“They’re taking the financials to the woodshed,” he said. “Until the housing market stabilizes you’re really not going to see the financials stabilize.”

Among financials, Citigroup Inc. fell $1.42, or 7.5 percent, to $17.43, while Morgan Stanley declined $1.79, or 4.9 percent, to $34.96.

The other corporate news Monday wasn’t enough to support the market. Verizon Communications Inc. said its second-quarter profit rose 12 percent, although revenue came in short of Wall Street’s forecasts. The company, one of the 30 that comprise the Dow industrials, made some investors uneasy after customers disconnected their landlines faster than before. Verizon fell 85 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $33.60.

Kraft, the maker of Velveeta, Oreo cookies and Maxwell House coffee, said higher prices helped offset rising commodity costs and listed second-quarter earnings nearly 4 percent. The company rose $1.45, or 4.9 percent, to $30.83 after raising its forecast for the year.

Private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. said Sunday it plans to go public on the New York Stock Exchange through a takeover of its Amsterdam-listed affiliate investment fund KKR Private Equity Investors LP.

Tyson Foods Inc., the world’s largest meat company, fell $1.14, or 7 percent, to $15.09 after reporting a 90 percent drop in its fiscal third-quarter profits because of rising cost of grain used to feed chicken.

Amgen Inc. surged $6.56, or 12.2 percent, to $60.48 after the company reported positive trial results for its osteoporosis drug candidate denosumab. Late-stage clinical trial results showed denosumab reduced the incidence of fractured vertebrae in post-menopausal women. It tacked on another 2 percent in after-hours trading after it reported second-quarter profit surpassed projections.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by more than 3 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to 4.16 billion shares, down from 4.55 billion on Friday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 14.23, or 2.00 percent, to 696.11.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 0.14 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.75 percent, Germany’s DAX index fell 1.33 percent, and France’s CAC-40 declined 1.20 percent.