Stocks Finish Mixed As Greece Worries Return


NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Wall Street finished on a mixed note Tuesday as concerns about Greece's potential exit from the eurozone resurfaced in the final hour of trading.

Stocks had been higher for most of the day, getting a lift from fresh data providing more evidence of an improving U.S. housing market and a lull in the negative headlines from Europe.

Late in the day though, former Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos was quoted as saying the country was considering preparations for a potential exit from the single-currency bloc.

European leaders are set to meet Wednesday to discuss ways to soften austerity measures that are causing political turmoil in Greece and other weaker European nations. They will also discuss other controversial policies including the creation of eurozone bonds, which has been stiffly resisted by Germany.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished just below the flat line, down 1.5 points to close at 12,503. Earlier in the session, the blue-chip index traded as high as 12,576.

The S&P 500 inched up less than a point, or 0.15%, to finish at 1316. The Nasdaq slid more than 8 points, or 0.3%, to settle at 2839.

Breadth within the Dow was mixed with 15 components losing ground, 14 in the green, and Walt Disney ( DIS) closing unchanged. Alcoa ( AA) and Pfizer ( PFE) were among the bigger percentage losers within the blue-chip index.

Bank of America ( BAC) and JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) enjoyed the biggest gains.

Shares of JPMorgan were up nearly 5%, even as regulators at the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission said they were investigating its recently disclosed $2 billion trading loss.

In the broad market, capital goods, financials and utilities were the strongest sectors, while energy and basic materials stocks slumped.

After the bell, shares of Dell ( DELL) were shedding nearly 9% after the PC giant reported disappointing first-quarter results and gave a weak guidance, citing a "challenging" economic environment.

Stocks were higher most of the day though, getting some lift after the National Association of Realtors reported that existing home sales rose 3.4% to a seasonally-adjusted-annual-rate of 4.62 million in April, which was slightly above expectations of 4.6 million units, according to economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters. The April figure rose from the downwardly-revised March rate of 4.47 million.

"It is no longer just the investors who are taking advantage of high affordability conditions," said Lawrence Yun, the chief economist at NAR. "A return of normal home buying for occupancy is helping home sales across all price points, and now the recovery appears to be extending to home prices."

"The general downtrend in both listed and shadow inventory has shifted from a buyers' market to one that is much more balanced, but in some areas it has become a seller's market," Yun added.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types jumped 10.1% to $177,400 in April from a year ago; the March price showed an upwardly revised 3.1% annual improvement.

"A diminishing share of foreclosed property sales is helping home values," said Yun. "Moreover, an acute shortage of inventory in certain markets is leading to multiple biddings and escalating price conditions." He notes some areas with tight supply include the Washington, D.C., area; Miami; Naples, Fla.; North Dakota; Phoenix; Orange County, Calif.; and Seattle. "We expect stronger price increases in most of these areas."

London's FTSE rose 1.9%, and the DAX in Germany advanced 1.8%.

The Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong settled up 0.6% and Japan's Nikkei average closed up 1.1%.

Earlier, Fitch downgraded Japan's sovereign-credit rating, pointing to its mounting public debt and slow response to stemming the debt load.

Fitch cut Japan's long-term foreign currency rating to A+ from AA, and lowered the country's local currency ratings to A+ from AA-. Both were reduced with a negative outlook.

In other news on Japan, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in an economic outlook report that it predicts the country's gross domestic product will expand by 2% in 2012 and 1.5% in 2013.

However, the Paris-based think tank forecasts that eurozone gross domestic product will shrink by 0.1% this year after previously calling for growth of 0.2%.

"The crisis in the eurozone remains the single biggest downside risk facing the global outlook," said Pier Carlo Padoan, chief economist at the OECD. He said that the eurozone could spiral towards a 2% economic contraction this year.

Both the OECD and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde were voicing support for eurobonds and the sharing of eurozone debt ahead of a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels Wednesday.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was falling 9/32, lifting the yield to 1.77%. The greenback was up 0.7%, according to the dollar index.

The July crude oil contract was down $1.01 to settle at $91.85 a barrel. June gold futures were down $12 to settle at $1,576.60 an ounce.


In corporate news, it was another ugly session for Facebook ( FB). Reuters was reporting that an analyst with Morgan Stanley, the lead underwriter for the social networking giant's IPO on Friday, lowered revenue expectations for the company prior to its disappointing public debut on Friday. The stock plunged 8.9% to close at $31.00.

Facebook's revenue growth has been slowing in recent quarters, raising flags among some who believe the company should show consistently strong revenue growth at this stage of its maturation. The company surprised investors after disclosing, just days before the initial public offering, that its revenue may be hit by more users transitioning to mobile platforms, where advertising is less proven.

Shares of Morgan Stanley ( MS), meanwhile, ticked higher by 0.9%, amid reports that regulators will investigate issues surrounding the Facebook IPO.

Specialty retailer Urban Outfitters ( URBN) posted Monday first-quarter profit that topped analysts' expectations. Urban Outfitters earned $34 million, or 23 cents a share, for the three months ended April 30, 3 cents above analysts' views. The stock rose more than 7%.

Shares of Williams-Sonoma ( WSM) gained more than 3% after the San Francisco-based upscale home products retailer reported adjusted earnings that topped Wall Street's consensus expectations and lifted the range of its fiscal 2012 profit outlook.

Tuesday brought more buyout news as well with Benihana ( BNHN) agreeing to be acquired by private equity firm Angelo, Gordon & Co. for $296 million. The deal values shares of the restaurant operator at $16.30 each in cash, a premium of more than 40% to the stock's average closing price over the 30 days preceding March 13, when Benihana announced plans to examine its strategic options.

The stock jumped 21% on the news. Benihana is now in a go-shop period that allows it to actively solicit third-party proposals through July 1.

Shares of Express ( EXPR) tanked more than 27% after its profit forecast for 2012 fell below analyst expectations. The retailer forecast a profit excluding certain items of $1.79 to $1.89 this year. Analysts had estimated $1.95, according to Bloomberg.

-- 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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