Markets & Finance

Stocks Fall on Mixed Economic News


A drop in durable goods orders Friday outweighed gains in consumer sentiment and new home sales. Next week's big event: the September jobs report

U.S. stock finished lower Friday after a late rally attempt failed. Some investors were cashing in on the six-month stock market rally while pondering the economic outlook for the rest of the year, with many looking ahead to next Friday's employment report for September.

On Friday, the 30-stock Dow Jones industrial average finished lower by 42.25 points, or 0.44%, at 9,665.19. The broader Standard & Poor's 500-stock index fell 6.40 points, or 0.61%, to 1,044.38. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index shed 16.69 points, or 0.79%, to 2,090.92, spurred by weakness in Research in Motion (RIMM).

On the New York Stock Exchange, 16 stocks were lower in price for every 13 that advanced. Breadth on the Nasdaq was 15-10 negative.

Treasuries were higher amid the weakness in equities. The dollar index was lower. Gold futures were lower. Crude oil futures were mixed.

Trading was slow following a batch of mixed economic reports: August durable goods orders

unexpectedly fell 2.4% after surging 5.1% in July; August new home sales rose 0.7% to a still-modest 429,000 annual rate from a revised 426,000 in July; and the September Michigan Consumer Sentiment index rose to 73.5 from the 70.5 preliminary reading and 65.6 in August.

"After a blistering run, the S&P 500 is pausing for air," wrote S&P equity strategist Alec Young in a note Friday. "[W]e think the current pullback is likely to be short lived as S&P Economics believes the fragility of recovery will lead the Fed to be extremely incremental in exiting quantitative easing."

The upshot: Young thinks "this realization will likely fuel renewed risk taking before long."

As for the economy, "so far the recovery has been anything but straightforward, and that's leaving policymakers in a quandary on when and how to exit the many stimulus measures," wrote Action Economics analysts in a website posting Friday.

Wall Street will be watching next week's data releases for clues on the status of the recovery. Second-quarter GDP is expected to be revised slightly lower to a 1.2% rate of decline.

The manufacturing reports are expected to show some further improvement, says Action Economics. The labor market is expected to remain weak, with next Friday's report on September nonfarm payrolls expected to fall another 173,000, while the unemployment rate rises to 9.8%.

In economic news Friday, sales of new single-family homes rose 0.7% in August, to an annual rate of 429,000. However, the July sales pace was revised downward, to 426,000 from 433,000. The consensus in the market was for a larger rise, to 445,000. The data are disappointing, but at least up after the surprise drop in existing sales announced Thursday. Sales fell in the Northeast and Midwest, but rose in the West and were flat in the South. The supply of unsold homes dropped to 262,000 from 270,000, lowering the months supply to 7.3 from 7.6.

U.S. consumer sentiment edged up to 73.5 in the final September reading from the University of Michigan survey vs. the preliminary 70.2 print (65.7 in August). That's also just above the 70.3 reading a year ago. The current economic outlook component rose to 73.4 from the preliminary 71.8 (66.6 in August), and was 75.0 a year ago. The 6-month ahead outlook index climbed to 73.5 from 69.2 preliminarily (65.0 August), and was 67.2 last year.

Orders for durable manufactured goods dropped 2.4% in August, reversing half their July increase of 4.8%. The consensus was for a 0.5% increase. Sharp declines in civilian and military aircraft (down 42.4% and 10.6%, respectively) were responsible for much of the overall decline, but even excluding transportation, orders were only flat. The big drop in civilian aircraft orders just offsets the 98.2% jump in July, and leaves orders near their weak June level. Excluding aircraft, nondefense capital goods orders dropped 0.4%, their second consecutive decline. Shipments, a more stable indicator, fell 1.4% in August (1.2% excluding transportation).

"Overall, the report was weaker than expected, casting some doubt on the strength of the manufacturing recovery," says S&P chief economist David Wyss.

The Group of 20 nations is close to an agreement that would require members to subject their economic policies to a type of "peer review," according to several senior G-20 officials, in a shift that would expose the U.S. and China to broad scrutiny of the way they run their economies. Also, the G-20 heads of state will announce on Friday that the G-20 will become the permanent council for international economic cooperation, eclipsing the Group of Eight, a senior U.S. administration official said. The

The initiative was pressed by U.S. President Barack Obama, but it satisfied the demands on Brazil, China, India and other large developing countries, which have bristled at being left out of G-8 conclaves. Under the G-20's proposal aimed at improving coordination of global economic policymaking, the world would reduce its reliance on U.S. consumers. The Chinese would boost domestic demand, the U.S. would trim its borrowing from overseas, and the Europeans would encourage investment, said a number of G-20 officials involved in the talks. The scope and effectiveness of the agreement -- which was expected to be signed off on by G-20 leaders on Friday -- will depend on whether and how it is enforced.

Bloomberg News reported G-20 leaders are poised to crack down on banker pay and better coordinate economic policies as they seek to temper the excesses that helped trigger the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Obama and other G-20 leaders are uniting behind a plan to force banks to tie compensation more closely to risk and tighten capital requirements, U.S. officials said.

The Wall Street Journal reported that G-20 nations agreed to phase out government subsidies for the production and consumption of fossil fuels, and directed finance ministers to complete by November a "range of possible options" to fund climate change mitigation in developing countries, according to a copy of the summit's communique.

In company news, Research in Motion shares ankd after the company posted adjusted second-quarter earnings per share (EPS) of $1.03 after the close of trading Thursday, vs. $0.86 EPS one year earlier on a 37% revenue rise. Wall Street was looking for EPS of $1.00. The company said approximately 3.8 million net new BlackBerry subscriber accounts were added in the second quarter. At the end of the quarter, the total BlackBerry subscriber account base was about 32 million. The company sees third-quarter revenue of $3.6 billion-$3.85 billion, with gross margin of about 43%, and EPS of $1.00-$1.08.

Tibco Software (TIBX) posted third quarter non-GAAP EPS of $0.13, vs. $0.11, despite a 7.4% revenue decline. Wall Street was looking for $0.11 EPS. The company sees $0.19-$0.21 fourth-quarter non-GAAP EPS on revenue of $176 million-$184 million.

Sara Lee (SLE) received a binding offer of €1.275 billion from Unilever (UL) to acquire its global body care and European detergents businesses. Where permissible, Sara Lee has agreed to accept the binding offer upon satisfaction of certain conditions.

McDonald's (MCD) raised its quarterly cash dividend by 10% to $0.55 per share -- the equivalent of $2.20 annually.


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