Watching today's action in the stock market felt a bit like being at Wimbledon, though it's doubtful the crowd there has ever been so thin.
Major proxies bounced in and out of positive territory and off intraday lows on some of the thinnest volume this year, as interest-rate worries continue to keep buyers on the sidelines.
Dow Jones Industrial Average
Nasdaq Composite Index
both started the day on an up note but ended lower. In between, the major proxies did their own thing. After a very modest morning climb, the tech-laden Comp slipped and didn't look back, ending the day off 84.65, or 2.31%, to 3584.73.
The blue-chip Dow was also dragged lower by pressure in tech and financial stocks , down 66.88, or 0.6%, to 10,536.75, though it spent a good part of the day trying to fight it. The small-cap
fell 9.21, or 1.8%, to 490.87 while the
lost 12.04, or 0.9%, to 1412.13.
"I think we are still seeing a buyers' strike in the market," said Dan Ament, associate vice president at
. "We've got anemic volume and a lack of conviction in any direction." Indeed volume on both the
New York Stock Exchange
Nasdaq Stock Market
was among the lowest levels of this year so far. (See below)
"We're in the process of pricing in the greater likelihood of a 50-basis-point increase, " said Ament, adding that a half-point hike feels like more of a reality today than it did just a week ago. In the meantime, it is clear that most investor have opted for a defensive approach.
The biggest drags on the Dow were its technology and financial components, including
which accounted for 10 points on the downside and
which held it down 21 points.
, off 2.1%, accounted for about 15 points of pain.
TheStreet.com Internet Sector
index lost 13.5, or 1.6%, to 850.8, hurt by pressure in net bellwethers
, off 2.7%, and
, off 7.3%. Online auctioneer
fell through support levels when it closed down 7 5/16, or 5.7%, to 121 3/16, a level it hasn't seen since August.
On the plus side,
hopped more than 5 points on news that cable television company
had made a bid for it.
Once Excite quelled the rumor by saying no bid had been made, the excitement died down and so did the stock price, which closed up 2 7/16, or 13.9%, to 19 15/16.
What little good news there was today was concentrated mostly in Old Economy stocks, and consumer names specifically. Retailer
kicked the day off on the right note, ringing up a strong first-quarter earnings report, saying sales jumped 24%, while earnings rose almost 45%, exceeding analysts' expectations. Wal-Mart ended the day off its highs, up 5/8 to 53, after trading as high as 54 7/8. Other retailers, like
, up 3.7%, went along for the ride. The
S&P Retail Index
had a smile after
boosted it to its recommended for purchase list from market performer. The stock rose 2 3/16, or 4.5%, to 50 11/16. The news helped lift fellow Dow denizens
, which gained 3.3%, and
Procter & Gamble
, which rose 2.6%. The
Morgan Stanley Consumer Index
edged up 0.3%.
Oil service stocks were strong again, benefiting from the latest rotation snap. The
Philadelphia Stock Exchange Oil Service Index
rose 0.7% to 123.77, after bouncing off an intraday record of 125.07. The Index has climbed steadily since mid-April racking up a more than 17% gain.
Investors have more fun and games to look forward to when the Producer Price Index is released on Friday. At the very least, having that report out of the way may provide a little more certainty about what to expect when the Fed meets a week from today.
"Investors just don't like uncertainty," said Ament, adding that market's reaction next week will depend a lot on the words coming out of the Fed's meeting. A sense that the Fed is being proactive with a 50-basis-point hike could be taken as a positive, he said, and could lead to some upside momentum. Ament predicts we will see an aggregate hike of 75 basis points, whatever the eventual time frame is.
Breadth was negative, particularly on the Nasdaq, on light volume.
New York Stock Exchange:
1,282 advancers, 1,580 decliners, 898 million shares. 50 new 52-week highs, 64 new lows.
Nasdaq Stock Market:
1,365 advancers, 2,703 decliners, 1.428 billion shares. 37 new highs, 108 new lows.