Wall Street drops before Fed; tech sector weighs

NEW YORK Mon Sep 10, 2012 4:20pm EDT

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, July 10, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, July 10, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street stocks fell on Monday as investors locked in gains on a recent rally ahead of possible policy action from the Federal Reserve later this week, while weakness in Intel shares weighed on the Nasdaq.

The benchmark S&P 500 index closed at highs last week not seen in nearly five years, motivating some investors to pull back from those gains Monday ahead of the Federal Reserve's decision on Thursday.

"The markets are up a lot, so the short-term risks are on the downside," said Jim Awad, managing director at Zephyr Management in New York.

Shares of Intel Corp (INTC.O) lost nearly 4 percent after several brokerages cut price targets on the chipmaker. Shares of Apple Inc (AAPL.O), the world's largest publicly traded company by market value, dropped more than 2 percent as the market's weakness was felt most in tech shares.

Investors are on guard against the unknown outcomes of several events this week, including a ruling by Germany's constitutional court on Wednesday on the legality of the euro zone's permanent financial rescue fund and the Fed decision on Thursday.

Expectations for more stimulus from central banks in the United States and Europe have underpinned markets in recent weeks.

The Fed looks set to launch a third round of bond purchases this week and economists said Friday's weak report on jobs growth for August was likely to convince the U.S. central bank a looser monetary policy was needed.

Analysts said the uptrend for markets remains intact, and traders were eyeing the 1,440 level on the S&P as the next barrier to further gains.

"When you have the central banks... practicing loose monetary conditions, you basically have a put on the market. And even any weakness that does develop should be somewhat contained," said Michael Gibbs, co-head of equity advisory group at Raymond James in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI ended down 52.35 points, or 0.39 percent, at 13,254.29. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX closed down 8.84 points, or 0.61 percent, at 1,429.08. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC dropped 32.40 points, or 1.03 percent, to 3,104.02.

Investors sold some big-cap tech names that have done well all year. Worse-than-expected data on imports from China added to selling in the sector.

Chinese import data showed a fall of 2.6 percent on the year in August, short of expectations for a 3.5 percent rise. Exports grew 2.7 percent, below forecasts for a 3 percent rise in a Reuters poll.

American International Group Inc (AIG.N) shed 2 percent to $33.30 after the U.S. Treasury Department said it will sell most of its stake in the insurer, making the government a minority investor for the first time since it rescued the company in the depths of the financial crisis four years ago.

Plains Exploration & Production Co PXP.N said it will buy BP Plc's (BP.L) (BP.N) stake in some deepwater Gulf of Mexico wells for $5.55 billion to boost its oil production. U.S.-listed shares of BP edged up 0.26 percent to $42.04 and Plains Exploration slumped 10.5 percent to $36.09.

Titan Machinery Inc (TITN.O) shares dropped 23 percent to $19.41 after the farm equipment retailer cut its full-year profit forecast after it reported a lower-than-expected quarterly profit as the worst drought in 56 years in the U.S. Midwest hit prices of tractors and combines.

On both the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, three stocks fell for every two that rose.

Volume was light, with about 5.56 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, below last year's daily average of 7.84 billion.

(Editing by Dan Grebler)

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