Stocks Stumble, Finish Near Lows

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Stocks lost ground Wednesday, weighed down by lackluster earnings from tech heavyweights Intel (INTC) and IBM (IBM) and nervousness ahead of another round of Spanish bond sales on Thursday.

The pullback follows Tuesday's stellar session, which was the best day for the broad markets in more than a month. Wednesday's selling was widespread but the financials, tech, conglomerates, energy and utilities were under the most pressure. Breadth was negative with winners outpacing losers 2-to-1 on both the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 83 points, or 0.6%, to settle at 13,033, just 5 points above its low for the session. The S&P 500 sank nearly 6 points, or 0.4%, to close at 1385.

The Nasdaq shed more than 11 points or 0.4% to finish at 3031, recovering from a session low of 3024.

Investors took exception to a disappointing gross margin guidance for the second quarter from Intel, while the source of concern when it came to IBM was a slight miss on the top line. Intel shares lost 1.8%, while IBM's stock was the biggest percentage decliner among the blue chips, giving back 3.5%.

Michael Boyle, senior vice president at Advisors Asset Management, notes that the majority of companies beat Wall Street's expectations each quarter so other factors -- such as guidance, company-specific metrics, or the tone of management's commentary on a conference call -- can matter more than the bottom-line numbers.

"Earnings will be about not just who is beating, but what else is being said," he says, adding later: "We try to look at how many are growing earnings, growing revenue and what happens going into earnings season. If the market is on a tear going into earnings season, usually there's a selloff because nothing will be good enough."

American Express ( AXP), Marriott ( MAR), Yum! Brands ( YUM), eBay ( EBAY) and Qualcomm ( QCOM) reported earnings after the bell.

American Express said first quarter profit rose 7%, beating expectations. The stock was flat in after market trading.

YUM! Brands beat expectations with an earnings per share of 76 cents and raised its 2012 forecast, but shares were losing 2% in aftermarket hours.

eBay saw its shares rise nearly 4% in post-session trading after it reported a strong first quarter. Adjusted earnings per share came in at 55 cents, beating estimates of 52 cents per share.

Shares of Qualcomm were plunging 6% in aftermarket hours after it issued guidance below analyst expectations.

Some of the selling late in Wednesday's session was attributed to apprehension about the upcoming auction of 10-year bonds by Spain. If the reception is weak and borrowing costs for the country rise, it could stir up investor fears about sovereign debt contagion and spark a return to risk aversion. Strong demand would assuage investor concerns that Spain is vulnerable to a bailout.

In other corporate news on Wednesday, SXC Health Solutions ( SXCI) agreed to acquire Catalyst Health Solutions ( CHSI ) for roughly $4.4 billion in cash and stock as the pharmacy benefit management industry continued to consolidate.

The merger, which values Catalyst Health Solutions at $81.02 a share, or a 28% premium to Tuesday's closing price, comes on the heels of a Federal Trade Commission approval of a blockbuster $29.1 billion acquisition of Medco Health Solutions ( MHS ) by Express Scripts ( ESRX ) earlier this month. Catalyst Health Solutions soared nearly 35%.

Another big mover to the upside was Intuitive Surgical ( ISRG ), the designer of the da Vinci robotic surgery system. The stock surged nearly 7% after the company beat Wall Street's earnings expectations for the first quarter by more than 10%.

Intuitive Surgical also gave a bullish outlook, forecasting revenue growth of 19-21% for 2012, slightly higher than its prior view for growth of 17-19%.

A notable loser on Wednesday was Chesapeake Energy ( CHK ), shed 5.5% to $18.06 following a Reuters report that CEO Aubrey McClendon took out $1.1 billion in personal loans over the last three years by pledging his stake in the company's oil and natural gas wells as collateral.

Genworth Financial ( GNW) was one of the biggest percentage decliners on the S&P, plummeting more than 20% as the life insurer and mortgage guarantor shelved the initial public offering of its Australian unit backing home loans to early 2013 after elevated losses in the country this year.

London's FTSE settled down 0.4% and Germany's DAX slid more than 1% on Wednesday.

May oil futures were down $1.53 to settle at $102.76 a barrel, while June gold futures were falling $11.5 at $1,639.60 an ounce.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was up 5/32, diluting the yield to 1.986%, while the U.S. dollar index was up 0.1%.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei Average finished 2.1% higher following the strength in other markets and stimulus speculation. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rebounded 1.1%, also following gains in the other markets as well as mainland China bourses, which advanced as the property sector rallied on expectations that falling home prices would lead to stronger sales and open the door to policy easing.

-- Written by Andrea Tse and Shanthi Bharatwaj in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.

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