Late Buyers Save the Day

The major indices overcome weak housing data to end narrowly mixed.
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Updated from 4:18 p.m. EDT

Stocks slumped Monday after the government reported weaker-than-expected data from the housing sector, but buyers emerged late to help the major indices finish narrowly mixed.

After falling more than 100 points earlier in the session, the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

closed down 11.94 points, or 0.1%, to 12,469.07. The

S&P 500

rose 1.39 points, or 0.1%, to 1437.50, and the

Nasdaq Composite

ended up 6.70 points, or 0.27%, to 2455.63.

"The comeback came thanks to bargain-hunters," said Robert Pavlik, chief investment officer with Oaktree Asset Management. "There wasn't any news to drive the market higher, but there was a pretty broad-based recovery."

About 2.73 billion shares changed hands on the

New York Stock Exchange

, with advancers nearly matching decliners. Volume on the Nasdaq reached 1.79 billion shares, with losers edging winners 8 to 7.

Energy-related subindices were among the winners of the day. The Amex Oil Index and the Philadelphia Oil Service Sector Index both added 0.5%, and the NYSE Energy Index gained 0.6%.

Elsewhere, the Philadelphia Housing Sector Index fell 1.1%. Also on the losing side, the Philadelphia/KBW Bank Index slipped 0.3%, and the Philadelphia Semiconductor Sector Index eased 0.1%.

Stocks were initially hit after the Census Bureau said that sales of new homes unexpectedly fell 3.9% to 848,000 annualized units in February from a revised 882,000 in January. Economists had expected sales to rise to 985,000 annualized units.

To view Gregg Greenberg's video take on today's market, click here

.

"The weather uncertainty, coupled with the inherent unreliability of these numbers, makes us very reluctant to run with the headlines and argue that this is the start of the second leg down in home sales," said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist with High Frequency Economics. "We have to wait for the March and April numbers."

"In the meantime," he added, "this report will counter some of the more gung-ho chat after the strong February

existing-home sales report last week."

Treasury prices were on the rise after the housing data. The 10-year note was up 7/32 to yield 4.59% and the 30-year bond added 12/32 to yield 4.78%.

Wall Street also had to deal with an advance in the price of crude oil. Futures at one point passed $63 a barrel as tension built between the West and Iran, which remains defiant about its nuclear program and continues to hold 15 British sailors and marines captive after seizing them in the Persian Gulf Friday.

The benchmark May contract gained 63 cents to finish at $62.91 a barrel. Since the front-month contract changed from April on Wednesday, crude has risen 6.2%.

Among other commodities, gold futures finished higher by $6.60 at $663.90 an ounce. Silver added 18 cents to $13.41 an ounce. Natural gas gave back 3 cents to $7.24 per million British thermal units.

As a new week unfolded, one of the Dow's components was dominating the headlines. According to a report, financial services giant

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

is preparing to slash 15,000 jobs at a cost of $1 billion. Confirmation of the plan could come in the next few weeks.

Shares of Citi gave back 18 cents, or 0.4%, to $51.44.

Though the busiest days of earnings season are still a couple of weeks away, a few companies are already out with their results. One of them was jewelry-seller

Tiffany

(TIF) - Get Report

, which beat analysts' quarterly estimates and issued an upbeat forecast for fiscal 2008. Shares of Tiffany shook off early weakness and closed up 13 cents, or 0.3%, at $45.63.

"Expectations are very low, so this isn't likely to be too upsetting a quarter," says Marc Pado, U.S. market strategist with Cantor Fitzgerald. "However, earnings aren't likely to provide us with a strong catalyst to take us to new highs. Therefore, we continue to suggest caution at this level."

The unofficial start of earnings season will be April 10, when Dow component

Alcoa

(AA) - Get Report

will post first-quarter results.

Among analyst recommendations, Goldman Sachs upgraded

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

to buy from neutral. The firm cited near- and long-term catalysts for the PC maker. Dell added 79 cents, or 3.5%, to $23.62.

Elsewhere, UBS upped

JetBlue

(JBLU) - Get Report

to neutral from reduce, while Deutsche Securities downgraded

Sunoco

(SUN) - Get Report

to hold from buy.

JetBlue finished higher by 15 cents, or 1.3%, to $11.84. Sunoco fell 43 cents, or 0.6%, to $70.73.

Stocks were lower in Europe and higher in Asia. Tokyo's Nikkei added 0.2% at 17,521, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.4% to 19,766. London's FTSE 100 was down 0.8% to 6292, while Frankfurt's Xetra DAX was off 1% at 6829.