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US STOCKS-Wall Street closes sharply lower on rate worries
May 24, 2007 / 8:39 PM / 11 years ago

US STOCKS-Wall Street closes sharply lower on rate worries

(Updates to close)

By Kristina Cooke

NEW YORK, May 24 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks fell on Thursday, as interest-rate concerns spurred investors to lock in profits from the market’s spring rally.

News that sales of new homes climbed at their fastest pace in 14 years signaled a slowdown in housing may have bottomed out, but it also put the Fed’s cut in official rates further out on the horizon. A steady rise in bond yields has investors worried about higher borrowing costs.

Rate-sensitive utility stocks, such as Exelon (EXC.N), dropped their most since February, as the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose as high as 4.90 percent, its highest since January.

The Nasdaq fell 1.52 percent, dragged lower by Network Appliance Inc. (NTAP.O) . The data storage company unexpectedly forecast a downturn in revenue, blaming a slowdown in U.S. technology spending. [ID:nN23347404]

“People are coming to grips with the idea that not only are there not going to be rate cuts any time soon, but if the 10-year Treasury (yield) goes much higher, then people are going to start talking about the Fed lifting rates again,” said Jim Paulsen, chief investment officer at Wells Capital Management in Minneapolis.

The market has been expecting an interest-rate cut to encourage economic growth later in the year.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI slid 84.52 points, or 0.62 percent, to end at 13,441.13, swinging about 200 points during the session. Earlier, the Dow had earlier rallied to a lifetime intraday high of 13,624.55.

The fourth day of losses makes this the Dow’s longest losing streak since the five-day slide that culminated in the global equity rout on Feb. 27.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX dropped 14.77 points, or 0.97 percent, to finish at 1,507.51, after earlier climbing nearly 2 points above its record closing high set on March 24, 2000, in the waning days of the dot-com bubble. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC fell 39.13 points, or 1.52 percent, to close at 2,537.92.

Stocks have been on a steady uptrend for the past two months on stronger-than-expected earnings, record share buybacks and takeover news, but several technical indicators have suggested the market is set for a pullback. Traders wary about rising gasoline prices and equity speculation in China may be anxious about leaving positions open over the three-day Memorial Day weekend, analysts said. They also cited resistance to the S&P 500’s record closing high of 1,527.46, which it topped on Monday for the first time in seven years and then failed to hold at the close.

TECHS AND UTILITIES DRAG

Semiconductor shares fell sharply after Dell Inc. DELL.O unveiled a plan to sell computers through Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT.N), raising concern that profit margins of chip producers may be squeezed. The world’s No. 1 retailer has a reputation for pressuring its suppliers to cut prices. Dell shares lost 1.4 percent to close at $25.89 on the Nasdaq.

Network Appliance stock plummeted 16.6 percent to $31.76 and was the biggest drag on the Nasdaq 100 .NDX.

The Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor index .SOXX slid 1.6 percent. Shares of Intel Corp. (INTC.O), the world’s largest chip maker, dropped 3.1 percent to $21.97. Intel, which trades on the Nasdaq but is also a component of both the Dow average and the S&P 500, was among the biggest weights on all three stock indexes.

In the utility sector, Exelon Corp. fell 3.8 percent to $73.75, while FirstEnergy Corp (FE.N) shed 3.7 percent to $68.47.

Higher bond yields can diminish demand for utilities, whose steady dividends serve as a substitute when Treasuries aren’t offering attractive returns. Standard & Poor’s utilities index .GSPU slid 2.7 percent.

Other rate-sensitive sectors, such as banks, also dragged. JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM.N) was down 0.8 percent at $51.59.

Energy stocks also fell, as U.S. crude oil futures for June delivery ended down $1.59 at $64.18 a barrel. Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) fell 0.9 percent to $82.28 on the NYSE.

HOME BUILDERS GAIN

Home builders’ shares and other stocks dependent on the housing market, such as home improvement chain Lowe’s Cos. Inc. (LOW.N) and Trex Co. Inc. TWP.N, a decking materials maker, held onto their gains. Lowe’s stock was up 0.9 percent at $32.06 and Trex shares were up 2.1 percent at $21.55.

Shares of builder Pulte Homes Inc. (PHM.N) gained 1.4 percent to $27.56 on the NYSE. The Dow Jones U.S. home construction index .DJUSHB was up 0.2 percent.

But the market’s breadth was exceedingly negative. Decliners outnumbered advancing stocks by a ratio of more than 4 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange and by about 3 to 1 on the Nasdaq.

Trading was fairly active on the New York Stock Exchange, where about 1.78 billion shares changed hands, below last year’s estimated daily average of 1.84 billion. On Nasdaq, about 2.40 billion shares traded, above last year’s daily average of 2.02 billion.

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