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Oil, Dollar Moves Slam Stocks

The two-headed monster of higher oil prices and a weakening dollar threw a scare into financial markets Tuesday. The session confirmed the loss of momentum that was evident last week, as breadth was decidedly negative and volume solid.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 174 points to 10,611.20, its worst point decline since May 19, 2003, and fell back into negative territory for 2005. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 lost 1.5% to 1184.16 and the Nasdaq Composite shed 1.4% to 2030.32. Decliners led advancers 26 to 7 on the New York Stock Exchange and by 23 to 9 on the Nasdaq. Volume was more than 1.7 billion shares on the Big Board and more than 2 billion shares traded over the counter.

Oil was a chief culprit in the decline, as crude futures rose 5.8% to $51.15 per barrel, their highest level since Nov. 1. The move was attributed to colder-than-normal winter weather in the Northeast and in Europe, as well as speculation that OPEC will cut production. Higher oil prices plus a drop in the Conference Board's consumer confidence index for February -- even if expected -- weighed on retail stocks. The S&P Retail Index fell 2.4%, with notable weakness in Home Depot (HD), whose results merely matched expectations, and Federated (FD), whose guidance fell shy.

Notably, energy stocks failed to sustain their recent momentum despite crude's surge. The Amex Oil and Gas Index rose fractionally, thanks largely to strength in Kerr-McGee (KMG), but the Philadelphia Stock Exchange Oil Service Index fell 1.5%.

The dollar's tumble was the second major contributor to the stock market's weakness, with the greenback falling to 104.065 yen vs. 105.54 Monday, while the euro rose to $1.3253 vs. $1.3068.

The decline was widely attributed to the central bank of South Korea's announcement it would seek to diversify its investments into higher-yielding, nongovernment securities and diversify the currencies in which it invests.

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