Stocks Snap Winning Streak


NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stocks finished modestly lower Monday, marking the first monthly decline in 2012, as shaky U.S. economic data dominated the headlines.

Worries about the sovereign debt situation in Europe also returned after Spain reported a 0.3% decline in gross domestic product for the first quarter, a performance that was actually a bit better than expected but still pushed the country into recession territory. The report came as Standard & Poor's slashed its credit ratings for 11 Spanish banks, referring "potentially negative implications" from the downgrade of the country last week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gave back 15 points, or 0.1%, to close at 13,213. The S&P 500 dipped 5 points, or 0.4%, to settle at 1398, and the Nasdaq dropped by 23 points, or 0.7%, to finish at 3046.

For the month, the Dow finished up less than 2 points, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq lost 0.7% and 1.8% respectively. The major U.S. equity indices posted their best quarterly gains in years in the first three months of 2012. Year-to-date, the Dow is now up 8.2%, the S&P 500 has added 11.2%, and the Nasdaq has gained 17%.

Both the Dow and S&P 500 had risen for four straight days headed into Monday's session, while the Nasdaq snapped a three-session winning streak.

Breadth within the Dow was fairly even with 15 gainers, 14 losers and 3M ( MMM) finishing flat. The biggest percentage gainers among the blue chips were Cisco ( CSCO), Kraft Foods ( KFT) and AT&T ( T).

Kraft shares added 1.2% after the stock was upgraded to overweight with a $45 price target by JPMorgan, saying it expects the company to top Wall Street's earnings expectations when it reports its first-quarter results later this week.

Prominent Dow decliners included Bank of America ( BAC), Caterpillar ( CAT), General Electric ( GE), and Procter & Gamble ( PG).

P&G shares fell 1.3% after the company was downgraded to perform from outperform at Oppenheimer & Co., which expressed frustration with the consumer products giant after last week's quarterly report and lowered outlook.

"The company appears to have been disproportionately impacted by sluggish market growth, exacerbated by market share losses which imply P&G's problems are more structural in nature," said the firm, which also removed its $75 price target. "While we expect some incremental improvement in trends, the company is likely to remain growth-challenged and no longer warrants the benefit of the doubt."

Apple ( AAPL) weighed on the broad markets on Monday with the shares losing more than 3% following a report over the weekend in the The New York Times that criticized the company's taxpaying practices.

In the broad market, losers outpaced winners by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio on both the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq. The VIX, which measures market volatility through options activity in the S&P 500, jumped 5% to settle at 17.15. A move above 20 is viewed as indicative of rising market fear.

Before the bell, the Commerce Department posted slightly better-than-expected personal income data for March along with a slight miss on personal spending for the period. Income rose 0.4%, compared with the 0.3% rise expected by economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

Personal spending was up 0.3%, compared with 0.4% improvement expected by economists. In February, income rose by an upwardly-revised 0.3% and spending increased by an upwardly-revised 0.9%.

The consumer data was followed by a worse-than-expected read on Chicago-area business activity. The April Chicago purchasing managers index registered a bigger than expected fall to 56.2 in April, from 62.2 in March, according to the Institute for Supply Management Chicago. Economists were expecting the business barometer to fall to 61, according to a Thomson Reuters survey. The barometer has now fallen for a second straight month, with production at its lowest level since Sept. 2009.

London's FTSE fell 0.7% and Germany's DAX was down 0.6% as Spain headed towards a recession.

Spanish gross domestic product contracted less than previously forecast in the first quarter, down 0.3% and unchanged from the preceding three months, according to the National Statistics Institute in Madrid. On April 23, the Bank of Spain had announced a decline of 0.4%. The National Statistics Institute also said that GDP fell 0.4% from a year ago in the first quarter.

"This behavior was due to the negative contribution by domestic demand, partly compensated by the positive contribution of foreign demand," the Institute said in a press release.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 1.7% and Japan's Nikkei Average finished down 0.4%.

In corporate news, Microsoft ( MSFT) agreed to make a $300 million investment for a 17.6% stake in a new Barnes & Noble ( BKS) subsidiary that will bring together the bookseller's digital and college businesses. Microsoft shares ticked up on the day while Barnes & Noble shares surged more than 50%.

Shares of Monster Beverage ( MNST) soared during Monday's session following a Wall Street Journal report that said the company was in talks to be acquired by Coca Cola ( KO) but the stock ultimately finished marginally lower after Coke denied the report.

Shares of Sunoco ( SUN) jumped 20% to $49.34 after pipeline operator Energy Transfer Partners agreed to buy the company for $5.35 billion.

Also, NYSE Euronext ( NYX) said its first-quarter adjusted earnings declined 32%. The exchange saw a slowdown in trading, particularly in its derivatives trading unit, and was hit by costs associated with its failed merger with Germany's Deutsche Boerse. Adjusted profit in the quarter was 47 cents a share; analysts were looking for 48 cents. Shares fell about 5%.

Warner Chilcott ( WCRX ), the drug maker, is weighing options including a possible sale after receiving interest from strategic and private-equity buyers, according to people with knowledge of the matter, Bloomberg reported. Shares surged 16%.

Humana ( HUM), the health care company, reported first-quarter earnings Monday of $248 million, or $1.49 a share, down from year-earlier earnings of $315 million, or $1.86 a share. First-quarter earnings included a gain of 3 cents a share from previous medical claim reserves; year-earlier earnings included a gain of 31 cents a share. Humana was expected by analysts to report first-quarter earnings of $1.52 a share.

Humana raised its full-year 2012 guidance to between $7.55 a share and $7.75 a share from a previous range of between $7.50 a share and $7.70 a share. Analysts were calling for earnings of $7.99 a share. The stock tumbled 8%.

In commodity markets, the June crude oil contract fell 60 cents to settle at $104.87 a barrel on eurozone economic concerns. June gold futures settled flat at $1,664.20 an ounce, recovering from earlier lows.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was rising 5/32, diluting the yield to 1.923%. The dollar was rising by 0.1% against a basket of currencies, according to the dollar index.


--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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