Stocks Fall on Fed Skepticism; Most Dow Shares Decline


NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stocks fell Thursday after a Federal Reserve official cast doubt on the possibility of further central bank accommodation, while a jobs report showed unexpected deterioration.

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said during an interview with CNBC that the Federal Open Market Committee minutes released Wednesday were "a bit stale ... we have some data since then that is stronger."

Meanwhile, the technology sector provided a headwind for the broad market with Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) shares sinking after the No. 1 PC maker tempered its outlook and missed on the top line in its latest quarterly report.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 115 points, or 0.9%, at 13,057. The blue-chip index, which began the session up about 7% this year, has fallen in the past three sessions.

Breadth was overwhelmingly negative on the Dow, with losers edging winners by 26 to 4. The biggest percentage losers were Hewlett-Packard, Boeing ( BA), Alcoa ( AA) and Intel ( INTC). Only Pfizer ( PFE), AT&T ( T), Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ) and Kraft ( KFT) were trading higher.

HP's shares declined 8.1% after the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company posted revenue that trailed Wall Street analysts' consensus forecast in the third quarter, weighed down by declining PC and printer sales.

The company also said it now expects full-year earnings of $4.05 to $4.07 a share, at the low end of its previous outlook.

The S&P 500 dipped 11 points, or 0.8%, at 1,402.

The Nasdaq was lost 20 points, or 0.66%, at 3053.

All sectors in the broader market were down, with the weakest being technology, transportation, capital goods and basic materials.

Decliners were outpacing advancers by about 2-to-1 ratio on the New York Stock Exchange and on the Nasdaq. August volumes remained very thin, with 2.97 billion shares changing hands on the Big Board and 1.37 billion shares in play on the Nasdaq.

The Labor Department reported initial jobless claims for the week ended Aug. 18 rose 4,000 to 372,000, spiking to a one-month high, from the previous week's upwardly revised figure of 368,000. Economists on average thought claims would total 365,000. The four-week moving average is now 368,000, an increase of 3,750 from the previous week's average of 364,250.

Continuing claims for the week ended Aug. 11 rose 4,000 to 3.317 million, compared with the expected 3.298 million.

The FTSE in London closed flat and the DAX in Germany settled off by 1%. Markit Economics said Thursday that output declined in both the manufacturing and service sectors of the eurozone for the seventh straight month in August.

Meanwhile, Markit and HSBC said that the flash read on China's manufacturing purchasing managers' index fell to a nine-month low in August.

Earlier, the Hong Kong Hang Seng index finished up by 1.2% and the Nikkei in Japan closed up by 0.5% with the help of global stimulus optimism.

"We will forsake holding hands and singing 'We Are the World' for now," said investment strategists at Oppenheimer Asset Management. "Structural challenges on the global landscape, including those in China and Europe, along with election year and fiscal cliff worries stateside will take time to resolve and keep us balanced and still focused on risk as well as on opportunity rather than wildly celebrating the near term."

In addition, the Census Bureau said new-home sales rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 372,000 in July from an upwardly revised June rate of 359,000. The consensus view among economists was that sales would reach a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 368,000.

However, the median new-home price was $224,200, down 2.5% from July 2011.

Meanwhile, the Federal Housing Finance Agency's house price index for June rose by a seasonally adjusted 0.7% from May.

House prices rose 1.8% in the second quarter from the first quarter of this year.

October crude oil futures dipped 99 cents at $96.27 a barrel while December gold futures soared $32.30 to settle at $1,672.80 an ounce.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was up 7/32, diluting the yield to 1.671%. The greenback was down 0.2%, according to the dollar index.

In corporate news, Rambus ( RMBS), the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based technology licensing company, said after Wednesday's close that it plans to lay off 15% of its workforce as part of a restructuring. Shares fell 1.9%.

Shares of Big Lots ( BIG) skidded 21% after the Columbus, Ohio-based closeout retailer said its fiscal second-quarter earnings declined 38% as revenue and same-store sales weakened and costs increased.

Shares of Hormel Foods ( HRL) gained 1.4% after the company posted stronger third-quarter results on solid performance at its grocery products unit, which benefited from strong Spam sales and the MegaMex Foods joint venture.

Shares of grocery store operator Safeway ( SWY) were downgraded to "hold" from "buy" at Jefferies, which cited weakness in industry fundamentals. Shares tumbled 4.1%.

Hain Celestial Group ( HAIN), the Melville, New York-based natural and organic food and personal care products company, said its British subsidiary has reached a deal to buy Premier Foods' portfolio of grocery brands and a manufacturing base in the U.K. Shares popped 19%.

Los Angeles-based Guess ( GES) posted weaker quarterly results and cut its guidance. Shares plummeted 23%.


--Written by Andrea Tse in New York.

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