Stocks Slip From Highs in Thin Trading

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Major U.S. stock averages slipped Monday as investors took some profits after recent strong gains in equities and watched for headlines from a meeting of eurozone finance ministers and developments on the "sequestration" talks in Washington.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 22 points, or 0.16%, at 13,971. The blue-chip index began the session up 6.5% this year.

Breadth finished negative, with losers overshadowing winners 16 to 13. The biggest laggards in the Dow were Home Depot ( HD), UnitedHealth ( UNH) , Boeing ( BA) and IBM ( IBM).

Bank of America ( BAC), Pfizer ( PFE) and Microsoft ( MSFT) were among the Dow components that were trading higher.

The S&P 500 lost about 1 point to 1,517. The index has risen for each of past six weeks.

The Nasdaq was lower by 2 points to 3,192, but still near a 12-year high of 3,200.

Sector action was mixed in the broader market, as basic materials, energy, capital goods and health care shares lost ground. The transportation, consumer-cyclical utilities and technology sectors edged higher.

John Burke, financial adviser at Burke Financial Strategies, said he sees long-term benefits in having the sequestration deadline kick in at the beginning of March.

"The biggest concern we have here is that the government is faced with an enormous budget deficit and that's forcing the Federal Reserve to try to compensate," Burke said.

The Fed, he noted, is supposed to be focusing on monetary policy only. "It never had to worry about the unemployment rate before ... they're printing money to try to keep this economy afloat, and now Japan's doing the same thing, so we have to start currency wars. These are things that have never been done before."

"We're worried that about the long-term consequences ... certainly it would be better if they could reduce the budget deficit."

On the eurozone finance ministers meeting taking place in Brussels, Burke said he hopes the officials will seriously discuss long-term solutions for the region's economic problems that they have so far avoided through "little solutions," including jobs growth in southern Europe.

Market volumes totaled a mere 2.6 billion shares on the New York Stock Exchange and 1.54 billion on the Nasdaq on the heels of a snowstorm that hit the Northeast over the weekend and as Asian markets remained closed for public holidays.

Decliners outweighed advancers by a ratio of 1.2-to-1 on the Big Board and incrementally on the Nasdaq.

Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. on Sunday debated higher taxes as part of a proposal to avert $85 billion in automatic spending cuts, the so-called sequestration, that kicks in March 1.

Euro-area finance ministers are meeting Monday and Tuesday in Brussels to talk about potential aid for Cyprus, an update on how Greece is faring with its second rescue program, and proposals for direct bank bailouts by the region's permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism.

Gold for April delivery plunged $17.80 to settle at $1,649.10 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, while March crude oil futures finished up $1.31 at $97.03 a barrel.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury fell 2/32 to dilute the yield to 1.959%. The dollar added 0.15%, according to the U.S. dollar index.

In corporate news, Google's ( GOOG) executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, plans to sell more than 40% of his shares in the Internet search giant. Google shares lost 0.38%.

AMR ( AAMRQ.PK), the parent of American Airlines, and US Airways ( LCC) are in final negotiations on a merger that could be announced this week, according to reports. US Airways shares sank 2%. AMR shares declined 0.68%.

Novo Nordisk ( NVO), the Danish drugmaker, said the Food and Drug Administration rejected its applications for approval of once-a-day insulin drugs to treat diabetes. Novo Nordisk's ADRs plunged 14%.

At the same time, Sanofi ( SNY) ADRs increased 3.2% as Novo Nordisk's problem is being viewed as a positive for Sanofi's rival Lantus treatment.

BlackBerry ( BBRY) shares slid 4.6% as AllThingsD said the company lost another big enterprise customer. The report said home-improvement retailer Home Depot ( HD) is transitioning some 10,000 employees to Apple's ( AAPL) iPhone.

Apple is reportedly experimenting with the design of wristwatch-like device that would run on the same platform as the iPhone. Apple shares were up 1%.

Nike ( NKE) shares rose 1.2% after the athletic apparel company was upgraded at JPMorgan Chase on high expectations for the company's earnings growth amid optimism over its product line-up.

AOL ( AOL) shares jumped 7.4% after the stock was upgraded to "outperform" from "sector perform" at RBC Capital.

Wendy's ( WEN) shares gained 3.6% after Barron's said the stock could rise by as much as 40% thanks to its revamped menu items and turnaround efforts.

American Capital Mortgage Investment ( MTGE) shares added 4.4% after the real estate investment trust booked better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings.

-- Written by Andrea Tse and Joe Deaux in New York.

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

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