Updated from 1:46 p.m. EST

A day before the presidential election, stocks on Wall Street were edging lower Monday afternoon, as traders prepared for another week of

quarterly earnings

. Some bearish economic data releases were also tempering investor enthusiasm.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

was lately shedding 61 points at 9263, and the

S&P 500

was lower by 9 points at 959. The

Nasdaq

was losing 5 points to 1715.

The election is potentially significant in that there's a chance that Democrats will control the House, the Senate and the presidency, said Alan Gayle, senior investment strategist at RidgeWorth Capital Management. "The market would be very happy if we had gridlock, because that would reduce the chances that there would be significant rule changes," said Gayle.

However, said Gayle, "I think to a certain extent the pervasiveness of the financial crisis has probably had a more dominant impact on investing leading up to the election and will continue over the near term." He said that performance by health-care stocks, which would typically decline in anticipation of Democratic rule, have lately held up relative to the major averages because they are defensive against a downturn.

Financial-sector turmoil continued to hold investors' attention.

The Wall Street Journal

reported that as many as 1,800 public companies could be signing up for investments by the

Treasury Department

under the

Troubled Asset Relief Program

.

Meanwhile, leveraged-buyout firm

Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts

was delaying plans to come public as the credit crisis hurt its capitalization standing. KKR said in a statement it would hold off on buying Amsterdam-listed

KKR Private Equity

until next year.

Insurance company

Hartford Services Group

(HIG) - Get Report

said in a filing with the

Securities Exchange Commission

that it had more than enough capital to keep its double-A credit rating at year-end.

Moody's Investors Service on Monday downgraded Hartford's senior unsecured debt rating and its short-term debt rating. Moody's said that Hartford's third-quarter earnings, along with weakness in debt and equity markets, were cause for concern.

US Bancorp

(USB) - Get Report

said it received preliminary approval to sell $6.6 billion in preferred stock and related warrants to the Treasury under the auspices of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Credit markets were loosening. Three-month dollar Libor, a measure of the rate banks charge one another for large loans, was down 17 basis points to 2.86%. Overnight Libor slipped 2 basis points to 0.39%.

However, a survey by the

Federal Reserve

showed that credit was still difficult to come by. The Fed reported that 85% of U.S. banks were tightening lending standards for commercial and industrial loans over the past three months, up from 60% in its July survey.

Agricultural products maker

Monsanto

(MON)

announced its intent to buy Brazilian firm

Aly Participacoes

for $290 million.

Less fortunate among agricultural names was

VeraSun Energy

( VSE), which said late Friday it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

In other merger news,

The Detroit News

reported that

Cerberus Capital

, which owns

Chrysler

, has ceased discussions with

Nissan-Renault

because Cerberus intends on merging with

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

.

Automakers were also releasing October sales results. GM reported that its sales declined 45% for the month.

Ford

(F) - Get Report

announced that its October sales declined 30 percent from a year ago.

Toyota

(TM) - Get Report

experienced a sales decline of 23% for the month.

Electronics retailer

Circuit City

(CC) - Get Report

announced that it would close 155 of its U.S. stores and cut down on its planned openings as it considers its options regarding a restructuring.

Soft-drink maker

PepsiCo

(PEP) - Get Report

announced it would invest $1 billion in China over the next four years in an effort to gain a foothold in emerging markets.

Airplane manufacturer

Boeing

(BA) - Get Report

announced that a strike by the International Association of Machinists had ended after the company and union signed a four-year contract.

As for earnings, insurer

PMI Group

( PMI) reported a wider third-quarter loss, and

Goodyear Tire

(GT) - Get Report

announced a decline in quarterly profit.

In terms of economic data, the Census Bureau reported that construction spending for September declined 0.3%. Economists were expecting spending to decrease by 0.8%.

The Institute for Supply Management's October manufacturing index showed a reading of 38.9, down from 43.5 in September and below economists' forecast of 42.

Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics, wrote in an email that the ISM index's decline marks its lowest reading since September 1982, and that its decline reflects that orders, production and employment have dropped sharply to deep recession levels. "The key issue now is just how much of

this plunge in activity reflects the shock of the market meltdown and how much will be sustained. We think there will be a modest bounce next month but the trend is horrific," he wrote.

"Clearly, the reading at 38.9 is very weak," said Gayle of RidgeWorth. He also said that there is a mitigating factor in the bearish data in that overall inventories are not excessive. Whereas in the past, businesses might have been slower to respond to declines in consumer spending, manufacturers have been quicker to respond to the negative environment, he said. "I don't think that number carries the implication of protracted weakness that it has in previous decades or previous cycles."

The European Commission also reported that Europe is probably in a recession and will continue to struggle through the next year.

Shifting to commodities, crude oil was losing $3.33 to $64.48 a barrel. Gold climbed $8.60 to settle at $726.80 an ounce.

Longer-dated U.S. Treasury securities were mixed. The 10-year was up 15/32, yielding 3.91%. The 30-year was flat, to yield 4.33%. The dollar was gaining on the yen, euro and pound.

Abroad, European exchanges were edging higher, as the FTSE in London and the Dax were logging gains. In

Asia

, Japan's Nikkei was closed for a holiday, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng finished on the upside.

(

Photo gallery: Trading Faces

)