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Wall Street closes mixed amid bailout concerns

Financial markets remained on edge Friday after the Bush administration's proposal for a $700 billion banking bailout ran into opposition from Republican lawmakers.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Financial markets remained on edge Friday after the Bush administration's proposal for a $700 billion banking bailout ran into opposition from Republican lawmakers. Stocks ended mixed, with big financial companies lifting the Dow Jones industrials more than 120 points, but worries about smaller banks and parts of the technology sector taking much of the market lower.

Demand for safe-haven buying in government debt remained high as investors uneasily watched events in Washington.

Some lawmakers are concerned about the cost of the proposal, and they balked at the plan after congressional leaders said Thursday they had reached an agreement in principle. Shortly after Friday's opening bell on Wall Street, President Bush said at the White House lawmakers can express doubts but ultimately should "rise to the occasion" and approve a plan to stave off what he sees as an economic calamity.

The rescue is designed to remove billions of dollars of bad mortgages and other now-toxic assets from the books of financial firms in a bid to free up lending. Tight lending conditions make it harder and more expensive for businesses and consumers to borrow money, a headwind for the economy.

Volume was relatively light Friday as many investors chose to just wait.

"I think the markets are on pause trying to figure out where this is going to go. Congress is still there," said Mark Coffelt, portfolio manager at Empiric Funds in Austin, Texas. "Right now everyone is a little bit shellshocked."

With no deal in place as trading ended Friday, investors were likely to be uneasy throughout the weekend. And there was no way to predict whether Monday morning would bring calmer markets after weeks of intense volatility, or whether the turbulence would accelerate. Even if a deal is reached over the weekend, its terms likely would determine how the markets start the week.

Credit markets remained strained Friday, though they showed improvement. The yield on the 3-month Treasury bill, considered the safest short-term investment, rose to 0.87 percent from 0.72 percent late Thursday. The lower the yield on a T-bill, the more desperation there is in the market; investors are at times willing to take the slimmest returns to preserve their principal. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.86 percent from 3.84 percent late Thursday.

The Dow rose 121.07, or 1.10 percent, to 11,143.13. Gains by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp. gave support to the 30-stock index. Most of their advance came late in the session as investors placed bets that a deal would emerge from Washington over the weekend. But with so much uncertainty, the big banks are seen as the most secure, and therefore likely to withstand whatever problems lie ahead.

Broader indicators were mixed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 4.09, or 0.34 percent, to 1,213.27, and the technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index fell 3.23, or 0.15 percent, to 2,183.34.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by more than 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to 1.19 billion shares compared with 5.73 billion traded Thursday.

For the week, which again saw triple-digit moves in the Dow, the blue chip average lost 2.15 percent, the S&P 500 declined 3.33 percent and the Nasdaq fell 3.38 percent.

Stocks traded unevenly Friday, with technology shares falling sharply after Research In Motion Ltd. warned that its gross margins would contract in the current quarter because of the costs for producing three new BlackBerry models. The stock fell $26.77, or 27 percent, to $70.76.

The market was also uneasy after Washington Mutual Inc. became the largest U.S. bank to fail. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. seized WaMu on Thursday and then sold the thrift's banking assets to JPMorgan for $1.9 billion. It was the latest financial firm to collapse under the weight of enormous bad bets on the mortgage market.

Although WaMu's failure was expected, it nonetheless underscored for investors how widespread the problems are in the financial sector.

Coffelt noted, however, that the market appeared to take some comfort from the orderly fall of WaMu. Several analysts praised the move as a wise takeover for JPMorgan. JPMorgan rose $4.78, or 11 percent, to $48.24 and was the biggest decliner among the Dow industrials. WaMu fell $1.53, or 91 percent, to 16 cents.

Meanwhile, Bank of America, which last week snapped up Merrill Lynch, rose $2.33, or 6.8 percent, to $36.70.

Bank of America and JP Morgan are now the first and second largest banks U.S. banks, respectively, perhaps offering investors some reassurance about the safety provided by their large asset bases in a market short on liquidity.

But worries about some other banks, including regionals, persisted after the failure of WaMu. Wachovia Corp. fell $3.70, or 27 percent, to $10, while National City Corp. fell $1.28, or 26 percent, to $3.71.

Light, sweet crude fell $1.13 to settle at $106.89 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Uncertainty over the bailout package left the dollar mixed against other major currencies. Gold prices rose.

Coffelt said the market would take a hit if a bailout doesn't materialize, though he said the broader fear is that tightness in credit markets would make any decline more severe.

"If it doesn't go through I think the markets probably get slapped — probably 1,000 points — but then we'll work our way out of it," he said, referring to a drop the Dow industrials could see.

Still, concerns about the broader economy persist. The Commerce Department said the spring's economic rebound was less robust than previously estimated. Gross domestic product, or GDP, increased at a 2.8 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter. That fell short of the 3.3 percent growth estimated a month ago, but was still better than two previous quarters.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 0.95, or 0.13 percent, to 704.79.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 0.94 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 2.09 percent, Germany's DAX index fell 1.77 percent, and France's CAC-40 fell 1.50 percent.