Updated from 9:55 a.m. EST

Stocks in New York returned to slightly negative territory early Wednesday, after opening slightly positive, ahead of more information on a $50 billion distressed homeowner aid package.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

was recently falling 9.9 points to 7542.81, and the

S&P 500

was giving up 2 points to 787. The

Nasdaq

was lower by 2 points at 1468.

The major indices took a battering Tuesday, dropping 3% to 4%, with the Dow closing just a fraction of a point off its Nov. 20 close, 7552.29.

The sharp decline came in the face of President Barack Obama signing the historic $787 billion stimulus package into law on Tuesday. "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, President Obama is expected to flesh out a $50 billion plan to help distressed homeowners

avoid foreclosures

, the most recent effort to curb the housing crises underlying the economic recession. Setting the stage, the Commerce Department reported early Wednesday 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.

The effects of the recession continue to play out in job cuts. The biggest U.S. tiremaker,

Goodyear Tire & Rubber

(GT) - Get Report

, will cut 5,000 jobs this year after suffering a 21% decline in sales.

Deere & Co.

(DE) - Get Report

was trading lower early Wednesday after reporting that its first-quarter profit

fell 45%

, as higher material costs, the global recession and volatile foreign exchange rates pressured earnings.

A Dutch financial name,

ING Group

(ING) - Get Report

reported a fourth-quarter underlying or adjusted loss of $3.9 billion

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."

The recession hasn't stymied growth for everyone, though.

McDonald's

(MCD) - Get Report

plans to open about 500 stores in China in three years, a senior executive told

Reuters

on Wednesday. Last week, McDonald's posted a better-than-expected 7.1% worldwide increase in same-store sales for January.

The dollar was strengthening against the pound, euro, and yen early Wednesday. Longer-dated Treasuries were mixed. The 10-year note was recently down 10/32, yielding 2.7%, while the 30-year was adding 4/32, yielding 3.5%.

In commodities, oil was rising 38 cents to 35.31 a barrel ahead of inventory data from the American Petroleum Institute (API). Gold was falling $2.20 to $965.30 an ounce.

Stocks overseas were broadly lower. In Europe, the FTSE in London and DAX in Frankfurt gave up 2.4% and 3.4%, respectively.