US stocks drop

US stocks drop

Wall Street took a tumble today on renewed concerns about the financial sector and FedEx Corp’s warning that weakening demand and surging fuel costs would weigh on profits in the coming year.

The Dow Jones industrial average finished down more than 130 points, after briefly dipping below the 12,000 mark for the first time since mid-March. All three major stock indexes finished down about 1%, as oil and bond prices jumped.

Unease about financials arose after several worrisome developments. Fifth Third Bancorp said it plans to cut its dividend by nearly two-thirds, raise US$1 (€644,000) through an offering of preferred stock and generate another one billion dollars through the sale of businesses.

MF Global Ltd. predicted that tight credit spreads will weigh on its fiscal first-quarter earnings. The futures and options broker said it plans to sell €300m (€193.2m) in convertible securities to help pay down a loan due this year.

And although Morgan Stanley reported a slightly better-than-expected fiscal second-quarter profit, earnings at the second-largest US investment bank were still down 61% from a year earlier on declining revenue.

Earlier, FedEx forecast that earnings for the fiscal year that began this month will fall well short of what Wall Street had been expecting. The shipper’s prediction serves as the latest sign that oil prices, which have nearly doubled in the past year, are exacting a burdensome tax on businesses and consumers alike.

“I think the news out of FedEx today really is starting to make people second guess some of the optimism that had been brewing over the last few weeks,” said Craig Peckham, market strategist at Jefferies & Co in New York.

The Dow fell 131.24, or 1.08% to 12,029.06. The index briefly fell below 12,000 before recovering. The index hadn’t traded below the 12,000 mark since March 18 and last closed below that level on March 17.

The Dow’s decline follows its loss of more than 100 points yesterday.

Broader stock indicators also pulled back today. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 13.12, or 0.97%, to 1,337.81, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 28.02, or 1.14%, to 2,429.71.

Light, sweet crude rose $2.67 to $136.68 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after the Energy Department said the US crude oil stockpiles fell less than expected last week but that gasoline supplies declined.

Though often volatile, the weekly numbers have drawn increased attention in recent months as investors look for any clues about where energy prices are headed.

The run-up in oil has unnerved some on Wall Street and raised the prospect that strapped consumers are going to pare spending on discretionary items because they are forced to reach deeper into their wallets at the gas pump.

Bond prices jumped as stocks declined. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell to 4.14% from 4.20% last night. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

Among financials – one of the weakest performing sectors of the session - Morgan Stanley rose 10 cents to 40.69, but Fifth Third, a regional bank, fell 3.47, or 27%, to 9.26 dollars, and MF Global fell 5.43, or 41%, to 7.83.

“The financials are getting hit. There just isn’t anything to spark interest in buying,” said Ron Kiddoo, chief investment officer for Cozad Asset Management Inc. in Champaign, Ill. He said that investors are finding it difficult to set aside their worries about the economy.

FedEx predicted it will earn $4.75 to $5.25 per share for its fiscal year, below the $5.92 per share analysts had expected, according to Thomson Financial. The stock fell 1.73 dollars, or 2%, to 82.60.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by nearly 3 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.28 billion shares.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 5.86, or 0.80%, to 730.71.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 0.73%. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 1.79%, Germany’s DAX index declined 0.99%, and France’s CAC-40 fell 1.44%.

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