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Banking fears, GE results drag Dow index lower

Concerns about the financial sector and a disappointing drop in revenue at General Electric halted a rally on the New York Stock Exchange Friday but the broader markets ended higher.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Concerns about banks and a disappointing drop in revenue at General Electric halted a broad market rally Friday, but spared the tech sector.

Thanks to a surge that sent the shares of Internet powerhouse Google up more than 11 percent, the tech-focused Nasdaq composite index rose by more than 1 percent.

Stocks jumped early after Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke reiterated that the central bank is ready to do more to stimulate the economy. Bernanke's comments were the latest confirmation the central bank is about to step up its purchase of Treasury bonds to spark growth.

But that burst of optimism couldn't fully overcome worries about how banks like Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. handled the foreclosure process on mortgages. Both banks, along with General Electric Co., were the primary culprits in sending the Dow Jones industrial average down more than 30 points.

"The market is not going to continue to rally if financials accelerate to the downside," said Maier Tarlow, a managing director at Raven Securities. "It's a major roadblock."

A small drop in the University of Michigan/Reuters consumer sentiment survey countered reports of growth in retail sales and manufacturing activity in New York.

Economists polled by Thomson Reuters expected the preliminary reading on October consumer sentiment to rise slightly. Retail sales climbed in September by more than economists had forecast. Manufacturing activity in New York surged in October and pointed to continued expansion in the coming months.

The Dow fell 31.79, or 0.3 percent, to 11,062.78. It had been up as much as 47 points shortly after the opening bell. It was up 0.5 percent for the week.

The Nasdaq jumped 33.39, or 1.4 percent, to 2,468.77. It was up 2.8 percent for the week.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 2.38, or 0.2 percent, to 1,176.19. It was up 1 percent for the week.

The Fed has hinted in recent weeks it would resume a program it ran during the recession to stimulate the economy. Bernanke's comments Friday were the most definitive proclamation yet that the Fed would act. However, he cautioned the central bank is still trying to figure out how big the bond purchase program should be.

Anthony Chan, chief economist at JP Morgan Private Wealth Management, said Bernanke successfully walked a fine line Friday between maintaining market enthusiasm over the expected program and avoiding upsetting other Fed board members who might have differing opinions.

The program would likely be aimed at driving interest rates down from already low levels in an effort to spark borrowing and spending by companies and consumers.

More spending, in turn, could lift corporate sales and lead to more jobs. High unemployment remains one of the biggest drags on the economy.

Stocks have been rallying in recent weeks in anticipation the Fed would announce a firm plan at its next meeting, which ends Nov. 3. Lower rates have helped stocks because it drives down yields on Treasury bonds. That makes stocks and other riskier investments like commodities more attractive.

"The Federal Reserve has basically put a floor in the market," said Kevin Mahn, chief investment officer at Hennion & Walsh Asset Management.

Any action by the Fed could have the dual effect of increasing inflation. Bernanke said inflation still remains too low by historical standards. If rates drop and borrowing and spending pick up, prices would rise.

The government said Friday that the consumer price index, a measure of inflation at the retail level, rose just 0.1 percent last month. Prices were flat excluding volatile food and energy costs.

Bond prices were trading in a tight range after Bernanke's speech. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 2.57 percent from 2.51 percent late Thursday. Its yield is helped to set interest rates on mortgages and other consumer loans.

Bank of America shares fell 62 cents, or 4.9 percent, to $11.98, while JPMorgan Chase dropped $1.57, or 4.1 percent, to $37.15. GE fell 86 cents, or 5 percent, to $16.30.

Google shares jumped $60.52, or 11.1 percent, to $601.45.

Consolidated volume on the New York Stock Exchange came to 5.8 billion shares, compared to 5.3 billion Thursday. Losing stocks were ahead of gainers by 3 to 2.