NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks fell on Friday after government data showed the labor market deteriorated further in December, raising investor concerns about the outlook for profits, spending and a deepening recession.
Shares of Citigroup Inc (C.N) fell 5.7 percent after the Wall Street Journal said the bank may sell its Smith Barney brokerage, with Morgan Stanley (MS.N) a possible suitor, prompting question about why it would want to sell one of its relatively healthier businesses.
Payrolls were cut slightly less than expected, but the U.S. jobless rate climbed to its highest in nearly 16 years and the number of jobs lost in October and November was increased, pressuring already weak consumer spending.
Energy shares fell after Chevron Corp (CVX.N) joined a growing list of bellwether companies warning about profits. It slid 1.9 percent, making it one of the top drags on the Dow.
Technology shares also took a beating, causing the Nasdaq to briefly wipe out its 2009 gains, led by shares of Apple Inc (AAPL.O), off 2.3 percent. Microsoft MSFT.O slid 3 percent.
Rambus (RMBS.O) shares fell as much as 40 percent, its biggest slide since becoming a public company in 1997, after a judge ruled on Friday against the company in a patent case with rival memory chip maker Micron Technologies MU.N.
“There is still a lot of bad news in housing and employment. While the credit situation is beginning to thaw, we’re still a sick patient.” said Kevin Kruszenski, Head of Listed Trading at KeyBanc Capital Markets in Cleveland.
“People are getting skittish in front of earnings season.”
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI ended down 143.28 points, or 1.64 percent, to 8,599.18. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX slid 19.38 points, or 2.13 percent, to 890.35. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC fell 45.42 points, or 2.81 percent, to 1,571.59.
Thus far in 2009, the Dow is off 2 percent, while the S&P 500 is down about 1.4 percent.
The sell-off caused the benchmark S&P 500 to mark its worst week since its November 21 intraday bear market low, trimming its advance since then to about 18 percent.
U.S. employers slashed 524,000 jobs from payrolls in December, less than the 550,000 seen in a Reuters poll, but still bringing total job losses for 2008 to 2.6 million, the most since 1945.
Underscoring weakness in the labor market, Boeing (BA.N) said it would cut 4,500 workers or about 7 percent of the workforce in its commercial airplane unit.
Shares slipped 0.8 percent to $44.45.
In warning about its outlook, Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil and gas company, cited the impact of lower energy prices on exploration and production business.
Chevron shares fell to $72.82, while those of rival Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) declined 1.9 percent to $77.57. On Nasdaq, shares of Apple, maker of the iPhone, dropped 2.3 percent to $90.58. The semiconductor index .SOXX was off 3.3 percent.
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama cited the faltering jobs market as a reason for his push for a new stimulus plan, set to include tax cuts and major public works spending that could total nearly $800 billion.
Share of Rambus tumbled after a U.S. District Court ruled it had destroyed documents and so may not enforce patents against Micron Tech.
Shares of the chip interface maker dropped 39.2 percent to $11.24 while Micron slid 3.5 percent to $3.29.
Shortly before reports of the possible Smith Barney sale, Citigroup (C.N) said former U.S. Treasury secretary Robert Rubin resigned as senior counselor following months of criticism of his performance.
Citigroup fell 5.7 percent to $6.75 while Morgan Stanley rose over 1.3 percent to $19.06.
Another standout was a plunge in shares of Lennar Corp (LEN.N), the second-largest U.S. home builder, after a letter questioning a late 1990s transaction involving the company surfaced on the Internet.
The letter to the FBI and other authorities from California pastor Barry Minkow, who served time in jail for stock fraud, concerned a joint venture between Lennar and a private developer to build a high-end housing project and golf course in California. The company said Minkow had acted as an agent for a disgruntled litigant and posted false and inflammatory accusations against the company.
Lennar dropped almost 20 percent to $9.15. The Dow Jones home construction index .DJUSHB fell 5.2 percent.
For the week, the Dow fell 4.8 percent, the S&P shed 4.5 percent and the Nasdaq slid 3.7 percent.
The Dow has fallen three straight sessions and four of the last five, and is down nearly 32 percent from 52 weeks ago.
Volume was light on the New York Stock Exchange, where about 1.16 billion shares changed hands, below last year’s estimated daily average of 1.49 billion. On the Nasdaq, about 1.93 billion shares traded, also below last year’s daily average of 2.28 billion.
Decliners outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by a ratio of about 5 to 2, while on the Nasdaq about three stocks fell for every one that rose.
Editing by James Dalgleish