Stocks Start September With Mixed Finish

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- U.S. stocks finished mixed Tuesday afternoon with a weak batch of economic data balanced against a 1%-plus pop in Apple (AAPL).

The ongoing debate about what kind of support the European Central Bank will provide for the region's troubled nations also affected investor sentiment.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 55 points, or 0.42%, at 13,036. The blue-chip index, which hasn't closed below 13,000 since Aug. 2, ran as low as 12,977 earlier in the session.

September is traditionally the poorest month for stocks, and the major U.S. equity averages are already on a two-week losing streak. The Dow lost 1.39% over the last half of August and finished the day up 6.7% so far in 2012.

Losers outnumbered winners among the blue chips, 19 to 11. The biggest percentage decliners were Alcoa ( AA), Caterpillar ( CAT), du Pont ( DD), Intel ( INTC), Microsoft ( MSFT), and United Technologies ( UTX).

Kraft Foods ( KFT), Verizon ( VZ), and Wal-Mart Stores ( WMT) were among the Dow's best performers.

The S&P 500 gave back nearly 2 points, or 0.12%, to settle at 1405, while the Nasdaq gained more than 8 points, or 0.26%, to finish at 3075.

Volume remained tepid at 3.18 billion on the New York Stock Exchange and 1.51 billion on the Nasdaq.

The weakest sectors were basic materials, conglomerates, and energy. Consumer non-cyclicals, health care and utilities were in the green.

The biggest downer of the day from a data standpoint came courtesy of the Institute for Supply Management, which said its manufacturing index came in at 49.6 in August, below the 50 level that economists were predicting. Readings below 50 indicate a shrinking manufacturing sector.

"The reading is largely in-line with global data but disappointing from a domestic perspective where the recovery remains illusive for now," said Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak.

Simultaneously, the Census Bureau reported that construction spending dropped 0.9% in July. A gain of 0.4% was expected.

Over the Labor Day holiday weekend, according to reports, European lawmaker Jean-Paul Gauzès said ahead of the European Central Bank policy meeting Thursday that ECB President Mario Draghi in a closed hearing with the European Parliament Monday said he has "no problem with purchases on the secondary market for bonds of two to three years ... he said the ECB wouldn't be contravening the treaty in doing so."

Jeffrey Sica, chief investment officer at SICA Wealth Management, cautions that Draghi's comments over the last few weeks offering hopes of ECB support could prove to be "beyond reckless, as he spoke in advance of a wholehearted world commitment -- especially Germany," whose constitutional court has yet to deliver a ruling on the ratification of the permanent European Stability Mechanism rescue fund. The ruling is expected on Sept. 12.

"Chances are he will attempt to stall the process over again and wait for official ratification," Sica said.

The FTSE in London finished down 1.50% and the DAX in Germany closed lower by 1.17%, coming off the prior session's rally.

The Hong Kong Hang Seng index closed lower by 0.66% and the Nikkei in Japan finished down 0.10%.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury fell 8/32, raising the yield to 1.580%. The greenback was up 0.17%, according to the dollar index.

October crude oil futures settled down $1.17 at $95.30 a barrel and December gold futures rose $8.40 to settle at $1696 an ounce.

In corporate news, Apple shares rose after the company set the date for its next big event. The Sept. 12 happening is widely expected to be the launch of the iPhone 5.

Wedbush Morgan also lifted its price target on the stock to $885 from $800 and lifted its iPhone unit and earnings estimates, while also reiterating an outperform rating.

Shares of Valeant Pharmaceuticals ( VRX) rose nearly 15% after the company agreed to buy dermatology products maker Medicis Pharmaceutical ( MRX) for about $2.6 billion in cash. Medicis shares surged more than 38%.

Campbell Soup ( CPB) posted fiscal fourth-quarter earnings of 41 cents a share on revenue of $1.61 billion, beating analysts' estimates of 39 cents a share on revenue of $1.59 billion. Shares dipped slightly.

Ford ( F) reported its sales for August rose 12.6%, better than the 9.8% increase that Edmunds was expecting. Shares added less than 1%.

General Motors ( GM) reported August U.S. sales that rose 10%, better than the 6.4% gain that Edmunds forecasted. The stock closed down 0.19%.

Smithfield Foods ( SFD) reported fiscal first-quarter earnings that declined 25% as its fresh pork business suffered from soft U.S. retail demand and higher supplies. Total packaged meats volume increased 4% in the first quarter. Shares were up more than 3%.

Heckmann ( HEK) shares advanced 38% after the water solutions services provider to the shale or unconventional oil and gas exploration industry said it plans purchase privately-held environmental services firm Power Fuels for about $380.5 million in cash and stock.

--Written by Andrea Tse in New York.

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

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