Updated from 4:07 p.m. EST
Stocks in New York were relatively unchanged Wednesday, as investors took in Obama Administration's $275 billion plan to help housing, the FOMC minutes and latest from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke -- plus the most recent financial swindle.
Dow Jones Industrial Average
added 3.03 points, or 0.04%, to 7555.63, while the
edged down 0.75, or 0.1%, to 788.42. The
was lowered by 2.69 points, or 0.2%, to 1467.97.
Bank of America
were the worst performers on the Dow, losing 6.7% and 5.5%, respectively.
, on the other hand, stood out with a 3.7% gain.
"As Greenspan pointed out last night, the country is consumed with fear -- fear of the unknown and worries that the current economic downturn will continue into the foreseeable future," says Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist at RDM, referring to comments by Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in a Tuesday evening speech to the Economics Club of New York.
"In terms of today, we've been up and down, with investors unsure whether we're likely to retest the bottom, while we also saw some tentative buying," said Sheldon.
This week's decline toyed with the Dow's November lows in the face of President Barack Obama signing the historic $787 billion stimulus package into law. "This is the beginning of the end," said the president, calling the package "a balanced plan with a mix of tax cuts and investments."
On Wednesday, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in a speech for the National Press Club that the minutes from the most recent meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee would be one of the first steps in enhanced communication, including projections on unemployment and inflation beyond the normal three-year forecast.
Members of the Board of Governors and the presidents of the Federal Reserve Banks now expect weaker than previously anticipated GDP for 2009 (-1.3 to -0.5 vs. -0.2 to 1.1), but greater GDP in 2011 (3.8 to 5.0 vs. 2.8 to 3.6), excluding the three highest and lowest projections, according to the FOMC minutes. It also increased its projected unemployment rate through 2011, though, expecting 8.5% to 8.8% in 2009 and 6.7% to 7.5% in 2011 up from 7.1% to 7.6% in 2009 and 5.5% to 6.6% in 2011.
Earlier in the day, President Obama fleshed out a plan to spend up to $275 billion, including a doubling of investments in mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to help the housing market. Of the allotted money, $50 billion will come from funds already committed to the financial-sector bailout.
The plan, he said, will "make it possible for an estimated four to five million currently ineligible homeowners who receive their mortgages through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to refinance their mortgages at lower rates" and "create new incentives so that lenders work with borrowers to modify the terms of subprime loans at risk of default and foreclosure."
Last "we will take major steps to keep mortgage rates low for millions of middle class families looking to secure new mortgages," said President Obama in his prepared remarks.
This newest effort to curb the housing crisis underlying the economic recession followed a report by the Commerce Department that
housing starts and building permits
both fell more than expected in January, reaching the lowest levels since the inception of the figures.
Housing starts fell to 466,000 from 560,000 in December, and much lower than the expected 529,000. New building permits, an indication of future activity, dropped to 521,000 units from 547,000 units in December, less severely undercutting analysts' expectations for 530,000.
In other data, industrial production declined 1.8% in January from a decline of 2.4% a month prior, and vs. expectations a 1.5% decline. Capacity utilization, an indication of the slack available in the economy, edged down to 72% from 73.3% a month prior, roughly in line with expectations.
"The data didn't tell us anything we didn't already know, but it tended to reinforce the negative sentiment that investors feel right now," said Sheldon.
News of bailouts and economic data shared headlines with yet another confidence-breaking scam story, as the SEC alleges that Sir Robert Allen Stanford and two other executives from Stanford International Bank and Stanford Financial Group orchestrated a "massive" scheme that promised "improbably and unsubstantiated high interest rates."
Meanwhile, the effects of the recession continue to play out in job cuts. The biggest U.S. tiremaker,
Goodyear Tire & Rubber
, will cut 5,000 jobs this year after suffering a 21% decline in sales.
Investors weren't unhappy with Goodyear, though, and sent shares up 6% to $6.38.
Deere & Co.
traded down 3.8% to $32.23 after reporting that its first-quarter profit
, as higher material costs, the global recession and volatile foreign exchange rates pressured earnings.
because of market volatility and declining asset prices. The financial services company plans to cut operating costs by 1 billion euros in 2009, saying the fourth quarter "marked the worst quarter for equity and credit markets in over half a century."
ING shares were down 9.7% at $6.08 for the session.
Also having an awful go of things,
from the federal government, as the outlook for auto sales has worsened further since the start of the year.
Tuesday was the deadline for troubled automakers GM and Chrysler to submit initial restructuring plans that will position them to meet a final March 31 deadline. The companies, which have already taken billions in government aid, must prove financial viability in order to receive billions more that they say are necessary to keep them afloat.
The recession hasn't stymied growth for everyone, though.
plans to open about 500 stores in China in three years, a senior executive told
on Wednesday. Last week, McDonald's posted a better-than-expected 7.1% worldwide increase in same-store sales for January. Shares were up 1.3% at 56.41 on Wednesday.
The dollar was strengthening against the pound, euro, and yen early Wednesday. Longer-dated Treasuries were mixed. The 10-year note was recently down 24/32, yielding 2.7%, while the 30-year was adding 25.5/32, yielding 3.5%.
In commodities, oil gave up 31 cents to settle at $34.62 a barrel, while gold rose $10.70 to settle at $978.20 an ounce.
Stocks overseas were mixed. In Europe, the FTSE in London and DAX in Frankfurt gave up 0.7% and 0.3%, respectively.