Wall Street trips and falls on cloudy Italian election

NEW YORK Mon Feb 25, 2013 6:41pm EST

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange February 21, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange February 21, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

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S&P worst day since November

Mon, Feb 25 2013

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks on Monday suffered their biggest drop since November after a strong showing in Italian elections by groups opposed to the country's economic reforms triggered worry that Europe's debt problems could once again destabilize the global economy.

The decline marks the biggest percentage drop for the benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 Index since November7, and drove the S&P down to its lowest close since January 18. The CBOE Volatility Index .VIX or VIX, Wall Street's favorite barometer of fear, surged 34 percent, its biggest jump since August 18, 2011.

Selling accelerated late in the trading session after the S&P 500 fell below the 1,500 level, which has acted as a significant support point. Monday marked the S&P's first close under 1,500 since February 4.

Italy's center-left coalition holds a slim lead over former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's center-right bloc in the election for the lower house of parliament, three TV projections indicated. But any government must also command a majority in the Senate, a race that is decided by region.

The resulting gridlock in parliament could lead to new elections and cast into doubt Italy's ability to pay down its debt.

"Europe hasn't gone away as an issue, it is going to hang around, and it is rearing its ugly head today," said Stephen Massocca, managing director of Wedbush Morgan in San Francisco.

"If someone gets elected who is simply not going to play by the rules, what are they going to do? It puts them in a real quandary here because their financial support, their monetary support is all stipulated by the fact that these austerity programs are going to be in place."

Earlier polls pointing to a center-left victory boosted stocks in Milan and other European markets, and also helped lift the S&P 500 to a session high of 1,525.84 on optimism that Italy would continue down its austerity path.

After a strong start to the year, equities have retreated more recently. The S&P 500's slight fall last week was its first weekly drop after a seven-week string of gains.

In Monday's volatile session, banks and other financial stocks were among the worst performers on worries about the sector's exposure to Italy's massive debt. The KBW Bank Index .BKX fell 2.7 percent.

The CBOE Volatility Index .VIX ended at 18.99, up 34.02 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI dropped 216.40 points, or 1.55 percent, to 13,784.17 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX lost 27.75 points, or 1.83 percent, to 1,487.85. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC fell 45.57 points, or 1.44 percent, to 3,116.25.

Although the overall market lost ground on Monday, there were a few bright spots.

Barnes & Noble Inc (BKS.N) shares shot up 11.5 percent to $15.06 after the bookseller's chairman offered to buy its declining retail business.

Amgen Inc (AMGN.O) shares climbed 3.1 percent to $89.55, after rival Affymax AFFY.O issued a voluntary recall of its only drug, an anemia treatment that competes with Amgen's top-selling red blood cell booster, Epogen. Affymax shares lost 85.4 percent to $2.42.

The FTSEurofirst-300 index of top European shares .FTEU3 edged up 0.04 percent and Italy's main FTSE MIB .FTMIB ended up 0.7 percent after earlier gaining nearly 4 percent.

Political uncertainty on the home front, though, is also on Wall Street's mind.

U.S. equities will face a test with the looming debate over so-called sequestration - U.S. government budget cuts that will take effect starting on Friday if lawmakers fail to reach an agreement over spending and taxes. The White House issued warnings about the harm the cuts are likely to inflict on the economy if enacted.

"Sitting out there is the one-thousand-pound gorilla - the sequester issue - and certainly nothing is happening there," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Group in Bedford Hills, New York.

Lowe's Companies Inc (LOW.N) lost 4.8 percent to $35.86 after the home improvement retailer posted fourth-quarter earnings.

With 83 percent of the S&P 500 companies having reported results so far, 69 percent beat profit expectations, compared with a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 6 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.

Volume was active with about 7.27 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE MKT and Nasdaq, above the daily average of 6.46 billion.

Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on both the NYSE and the Nasdaq by a ratio of about 4 to 1.

(Editing by Kenneth Barry, Nick Zieminski and Jan Paschal)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (5)
Harry079 wrote:
“The major trend is that indexes will keep moving higher, a reflection that the economy continues to grow at a moderate pace”

I wonder what that trend would be if the Fed & Treasury pulled the $85 BILLION a month of borrowed taxpayer money to support those indexes?

There wasn’t even a mention of the Feds QE programs in this story and you folks at Reuters should be ashamed.

Someday you media types will actually get a clue.

Then again maybe not.

Feb 25, 2013 10:20am EST  --  Report as abuse
Harry079 wrote:
Up 70 points this morning.

Reuters says: “A reflection that the economy continues to grow”

Noon down 60 points.

Reuters says: “It’s Italy’s fault.”

Well what happened to the growing economy?

Did Italy steal it?

Feb 25, 2013 12:09pm EST  --  Report as abuse
mountainrose wrote:
Watched the Dow go up 38 pts then drop 150 cause of the results of an Italian election and not one pundit, expert or writer ever bothers explaining the correlation. Hint financials led the way down today just like in 08

Feb 25, 2013 4:24pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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California state worker Albert Jagow (L) goes over his retirement options with Calpers Retirement Program Specialist JeanAnn Kirkpatrick at the Calpers regional office in Sacramento, California October 21, 2009. Calpers, the largest U.S. public pension fund, manages retirement benefits for more than 1.6 million people, with assets comparable in value to the entire GDP of Israel. The Calpers investment portfolio had a historic drop in value, going from a peak of $250 billion in the fall of 2007 to $167 billion in March 2009, a loss of about a third during that period. It is now around $200 billion. REUTERS/Max Whittaker   (UNITED STATES) - RTXPWOZ

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