Updated from 3:34 p.m. EST
Stocks spent Wednesday afternoon crisscrossing the flat line, as investors divided their attention between corporate news, vaudeville in Washington, greater-than-expected oil inventories, and another slate of economic data.
Dow Jones Industrial Average
added 50.73 points, or 0.6%, at 7939.61, and the
gained 6.58 points, or 0.8%, to 833.73. The
tacked on 5.77 points, or 0.4%, to finish at 1530.50.
Bank of America
were among the strongest components on the Dow, while bank CEOS testified in front of a House panel about their use of financial bailout money, or so-called Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds.
Money spent on bonuses, dividends, and instances of arguably frivolous spending by banks and their executives benefitting from TARP money has created outrage in Washington. "We need to do a better job of acknowledging the new realities," said Vikram Pandit, Citi's CEO. "I get the new realities, and I will make sure Citi gets it as well."
Skepticism about the responsible use of the $350 billion in taxpayer money, however, comes concurrent with frustration with lack of details about the next step of the bank cleanup efforts.
The indices sank more than 4% earlier in the week when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner presented a bank rescue plan that came across as vague and particularly shy on specifics with regard to the process of valuing and buying soured assets from banks to alleviate their pained and constricted balance sheets.
"My sense is that this continual change in policy has created as much uncertainty as this economy itself," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank. But, it's likely Geithner is trying to avoid some of the "about-faces that Paulson made last year," he says.
"So I think rather than come back with a specific plan and have modifications, he wanted to lay out a framework from which he'll operate," he says. "But investors want answers now."
Senator majority leader Harry Reid said Wednesday that negotiators have reached agreement on a $789 billion economic stimulus package, a hybrid of the measure passed by the Senate and the one passed earlier by the House. Reid said votes on the final stimulus occur as early as Thursday.
Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency reported a greater-than-expected, 4.7 million barrel jump in crude inventories for the week ended Feb. 6. Oil prices have fallen as constraints on supply stretch to catch up with substantial drops in demand.
Oil slid $1.61 to settle at 35.94 a barrel.
declined nearly 3%,
toyed with the flat line, and
Corporate news also made headlines Wednesday, from the likes of
Research in Motion
, and the first initial public offering in three months.
said revenue for the first quarter
fell 51% from a year prior, to $409.3 million, as potential homebuyers evade the market.
Also, according to a late-Tuesday report by the
New York Times
may file for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection "within days" as it struggles to wrestle down debt. The company's shares were sharply lower early Wednesday.
Research in Motion
shares were down also - more than 12% -- early Wednesday. The Blackberry maker said it expects fourth-quarter revenue
to be at or near the midpoint of its previously forecasted range, with gross margins and earnings-per-share at the lower end of previous guidance.
Research in Motion will also reportedly acquire digital-encryption technology company Certicom for 3 Canadian dollars a share, or $2.41 a share in cash, winning a bidding war with internet infrastructure company
the first initial public offering in 2009 , and the first in three months. A spinoff of
Bristol Myers Squibb
, pediatric-nutrition-products maker Mead Johnson & Co. said Wednesday it will price its IPO offering 30 million shares at $24 a share, the high end of its planned price range.
A variety of economic data were also quietly released Wednesday, as the commerce department reported that the international trade deficit narrowed in December to minus $39.9 billion, from minus $41.6 billion a month prior, but was still greater than an expected $37.7 billion shortfall. U.S. imports fell 5.5%, while exports fell 6% for the month.
For 2008, the deficit was lessened to $677.1 billion from $700.3 billion in 2007, because economic growth and consumer spending began to decline in the second half of 2008, and notably a steep decline in oil prices. But the deficit was still 4.7% of GDP, says Peter Morici, Professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business University of Maryland and former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission.
"Trade deficits and shoddy banking practices pushed the economy into recession, and until both trade and the banks are fixed, sustained economic growth cannot be accomplished," says Morici. "The trade deficit will rise again as the effects of the stimulus package are felt, but if its underlying causes are not addressed, the trade deficit will drag the economy back down into a double-dip recession."
In other economic data, Mortgage Bankers Association said mortgage application volume was 600.6 for the week ending Feb. 6, a decrease of 24.5% percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from 795.4 the week prior. The refinance index fell 30% to 2722.7, and the seasonally adjusted purchase index declined 9.8% to 235.9, its lowest level since the end of 2000.
consumer comfort index came in at negative -53 for last week, from -52 a week prior.
The dollar was recently stronger against the pound and yen, and weaker against the euro. Gold rose $30.30 to settle at $944.50 an ounce.
Longer-dated Treasuries were recently rising; the 10-year note was recently up 13/32 to yield 2.8%, the 30-year was adding 17/32, yielding 3.5%.
Stocks were mixed overseas. In Europe, the FTSE in London and DAX in Frankfurt were slightly higher. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei lost modest ground, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed down 2.5%.