Wall Street Winces Ahead of Alcoa's Earnings

U.S stocks trade lower as investors look to the first of the fourth quarter's earnings numbers from Alcoa after the market close.
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Updated from 2:33 p.m. EST

Stocks in New York continued to falter Monday with financials leading the descent, as investors awaited for the first fourth-quarter earnings report.

Price declines in commodities continued, while the major equity indices traded further downward into the close. Led by declines in

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

and

Bank of America

(BAC) - Get Report

, the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

was losing 142 points at 8457. The

S&P 500

was off by 22 points at 869, and the

Nasdaq

was down 39 points at 1533.

"I put aside some of my free market principles when I was told that the situation we were facing could be worse than the Great Depression," President Bush said in his last formal press conference as commander in chief Monday morning. The president, reflecting on difficult decisions of late, talked about his disappointments and what lies ahead for the president elect.

President-elect Obama called Monday for the release of the second half of the Troubled Asset Relief Fund (TARP), hoping to change the practices of the program which has funneled bailout money into banks.

Investors, meanwhile, held focus on earnings, anticipating steep declines in fourth-quarter reports, which would be led off by

Alcoa's

(AA) - Get Report

report after the market close.

Analysts, on average, are expecting Alcoa to report a loss of 10 cents a share for the recent quarter, according to Thomson Reuters. Deutsche Bank

downgraded

the aluminum producer stock to sell from hold and reined in its price target by $2 based on revised commodity estimates and Alcoa's recently announced production cuts.

"We believe these factors will likely lead to significant net losses for Alcoa in the short term and note the downside from current prices, near-term negative free cash flow and large net debt position in our sell rating," wrote DB analysts.

Companies with large debt positions are going to be in trouble in a deflationary environment, notes Matt Smith, chief investment officer of Smith Affiliated Capital. You have to add debt interest back into operating earnings -- and keep in mind that the interest expense is going to increase for any debt that's coming due in the next two years, he says. "So what you'll have is a crumbling of balance sheets."

Chevron

(CVX) - Get Report

,

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

and

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

tempered expectations last week, shaking investor confidence. And Alcoa and

Boeing

(BA) - Get Report

announced they would cut thousands of workers in an effort to better handle the economic downturn.

Shares of

Harley Davidson

(HOG) - Get Report

were down sharply Monday after Goldman Sachs downgraded the stock to sell, noting that unprecedented headwinds in global luxury motorcycle demand and credit have yet to be fully realized in the shares.

UBS

(UBS) - Get Report

was also in retreat on reports that the bank will announce record full-year losses next month.

Reports emerged late Friday that Citi was discussing a sale of

Smith Barney

, its 11,000-adviser financial brokerage, to

Morgan Stanley

(MS) - Get Report

.

Earlier Friday the bank announced that

Robert Rubin

, senior counsel and a director at the bank, was resigning. The former Treasury Secretary has come under fire over the past two months for his role in encouraging the New York bank's foray into toxic debt.

President-elect Barack Obama last week pledged accountability and transparency in a pitch for his administration's $800 billion economic stimulus plan, dubbed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan. Obama said late Monday that he is moving forward with efforts to gain approval to allocate the second half of the TARP and has contacted the leadership in the Senate and the House.

The president elect has promised to better monitor the

second $350 billion

and said Monday that he aims to change some of the practices in using this next phase of the program.

The president elect said his administration will focus the TARP on housing foreclosures and small businesses, making sure that the credit is flowing to consumers.

"This is one more aspect to a broader approach to reinvigorating our economy and we're absolutely going to get it done," said Obama.

Last week, Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Warren, who chairs a panel charged with overseeing the TARP money, urged Congress to consider whether prospective beneficiaries will be accountable and transparent in their use of the money and whether it will be used for the purpose for which it was intended.

Meanwhile, Mideast tensions, signs that OPEC supply restrictions are being implemented and the Gazprom-Ukraine gas dispute were outweighed by concerns that the economic downturn would continue to weigh on demand.

Oil prices

fell 17% last week, and started the new week on a downward course, declining $3.24 to close at $37.59 a barrel Monday.

Gold fell $34 to settle at $821 an ounce. Longer-dated Treasuries recently reversed; the 10-year note was adding 25 0.5/32 to yield 2.3%, and the 30-year was up 1 19.5/32, yielding 3%.

The dollar was stronger against the euro and pound, and weaker against the yen.

Overseas, the FTSE in London and the DAX in Frankfurt lost ground Monday, while Japan's Nikkei Hong Kong's Hang Seng ended with losses as well.

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