NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stocks finished on a mixed note Monday as eurozone debt concerns weighed on sentiment ahead of Alcoa's ( AA) postclose quarterly report, in which it beat estimates. The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 37 points, or 0.3%, to close at 11,637, falling for a third straight session. The S&P 500 dipped 2 points, or 0.1%, to settle at 1,270, while the Nasdaq Composite was the exception, rising 4 points, or 0.2% to 2,708. AT&T ( T) was the biggest laggard, shedding 2% ahead of an expected announcement from Verizon ( VZ) Tuesday that it will begin selling the iPhone by the end of the month. DuPont ( DD) and Microsoft ( MSFT) were other laggards. Overall breadth was negative, with 19 of the Dow's 30 components in decline. 3M ( MMM), Bank of America ( BAC) and Travelers ( TRV) were among the biggest percentage gainers within the Dow. Alcoa, which also managed a positive finish, said after the bell that its fiscal fourth-quarter profit grew to 21 cents per share on an adjusted basis on revenue of $5.65 billion. Analysts were expecting earnings of 20 cents a share for the fourth quarter on revenue of $5.68 billion.
As the first Dow component to issue its report each quarter, Alcoa's results are typically viewed as the official start of earnings season. Following their 5%-plus run-up in December, stocks seem to have already priced in significant earnings growth, so it may difficult for companies to impress already bullish analysts on the upside. "Companies will surprise by a couple of percentage points," said Jeff Kleintop of LPL Financial. "Consensus is for 30% year on year, which is a high hurdle. ... I don't think profit guidance is going to be up given productivity gains have slowed and companies are not hiring."
Stocks began Monday's session on a weak note as concerns about Europe's debt problems returned. Yields on Portuguese, Belgian and Spanish bonds jumped amid
upcoming eurozone bond auctions and concerns that Portugal may be the next country to seek European Union bailout funds. London's FTSE lost 0.5%, and the DAX in Frankfurt finished 1.3% lower. Deals also snapped back into focus Monday. Shares of DuPont were under pressure following news that it agreed to buy Danish food ingredients company Danisco for $5.8 billion in cash and the assumption of $500 million Danisco debt. DuPont expects the purchase to close early in the second quarter and be accretive to cash and earnings in 2012. DuPont's stock closed down 1.5% to $49.03. The utilities sector was seeing the worst performance of the session weighed down by shares of Duke Energy ( DUK) and Progress Energy ( PGN), which fell on news that they will merge in a stock-for-stock transaction resulting in an energy company with a market capitalization of $37 billion. Duke's stock was down 1.1% to $17.58, and Progress shares were down by 1.6% at $43.99. Financials also were trading lower as a coalition of large public pension funds demanded that boards of directors at Bank of America ( BAC), Citigroup ( C), JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) and Wells Fargo ( WFC) perform independent examinations of mortgage and disclosure practices and report their findings in their 2011 proxy statements. Shares of Apollo ( APOL) soared in aftermarket trading after it beat earnings expectations. The for-profit education company reported a profit of $1.61 per share against estimates of $1.25 per share. Earlier in the day, shares of Apollo had been under pressure along with other education stocks after Strayer Education ( STRA) warned of slower student enrollment growth. Shares of Strayer tumbled 23% to $118.60. Shares of rivals including DeVry ( DV) and Washington Post ( WPO) were also down by 10% and 6%, respectively. Shares of Nvidia ( NVDA) were gaining 3.8% to $21.40 in aftermarket trading after Intel ( INTC) said it has entered into a long-term patent licensing agreement with the company and will pay it $1.5 billion over the next five years to resolve a patent dispute between the two companies. Playboy ( PLA) accepted Hugh Hefner's offer to take the company private for $6.15 a share. Its stock was up 17% at $6.09. Shares of Smith & Nephew ( SNN) were up 6.8% to $54.28 on news that the London-based medical devices maker received a takeover bid last month from Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ). J&J's stock was off by 0.7% at $62.13.
BP's ( BP) stock was down 0.1% at $46.03 after a
pipeline leak forced the company to shut down 95% of production from North America's biggest field. Shares of Sara Lee ( SLE) were up 4.5% to $18.21 on reports that Brazilian meat company JBS SA was weighing a revised bid for the U.S. branded food products company, according to Bloomberg. Last month, Sara Lee rejected a buyout offer from JBS. Shares of Radio Shack ( RSH) plunged 5% to $ 17.47 on a downgrade from FBR Capital and Credit Suisse analysts to market perform, citing challenges to its mobile-phone market share if Verizon begins selling the iPhone. In commodity markets, the February crude oil contract rose $1.22 to settle at $89.25 a barrel, following the oil pipeline shutdown. The February gold contract rose by $5 to trade at $1,373.90 an ounce. The dollar weakened against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index down by 0.3%. The benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose 10/32, lowering the yield to 3.287%. . Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.7% and China's Shanghai Composite lost 1.7% as December exports in China rose by a less-than-expected 17.9% after jumping 34.9% in November. --Written by Melinda Peer and Shanthi Bharatwaj in New York.