Saturday, June 25, 2011

U.S. Stocks Fall as Oracle Drives Technology Slump, Italian Banks Retreat

U.S. stocks retreated, sending the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index lower for a third straight day, as concern about the European debt crisis intensified and Oracle Corp. (ORCL) dragged down technology shares.

Technology companies in the S&P 500 dropped 1.8 percent as a group. Oracle, the largest maker of database software, sank 4.1 percent after reporting lower hardware sales. Micron Technology Inc. (MU) tumbled 14 percent as the maker of computer- memory chips reported sales and profit that missed estimates. Bank of America Corp. (BAC) and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) slumped at least 1.4 percent, following losses in European lenders.

The S&P 500 fell 1.2 percent to 1,268.45 at 4 p.m. in New York, extending its drop in June to 5.7 percent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 115.42 points, or 1 percent, to 11,934.58 today. More than 10.1 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges as of 5 p.m., the highest since March, as investors bought and sold shares to match Russell Investments’ annual changes to its equity indexes. Russell says about $3.9 trillion is benchmarked to its global stock-market measures.

“The market has been in a correction mode for the month of June,” said Timothy Ghriskey, chief investment officer at the Solaris Group LLC in Bedford Hills, New York, which manages $2 billion. “The focus really has been on the European debt crisis, on Greece and on the potential for contagion.”

The S&P 500 has retreated 7 percent from this year’s high at the end of April amid weaker-than-estimated economic data and concern about Europe’s debt crisis. The index is still up 0.9 percent in 2011 on government stimulus measures and better-than- expected earnings.

Moody’s Warning
Stocks fell as banks dragged on Europe’s benchmark index after Moody’s Investors Service said it may downgrade 13 Italian lenders because they would be vulnerable to a cut in the government’s credit rating. The euro dropped a third day and bond yields rose in Spain and Italy. Declines in the financial and technology companies overshadowed faster-than-forecast growth in U.S. durable-goods orders and European leaders’ pledge to support Greece if the nation approves austerity measures.

Equity futures rose earlier after the Commerce Department said orders for durable goods, or equipment meant to last at least three years, rose 1.9 percent, beating the median economist forecast of 1.5 percent. Demand for non-military capital equipment also beat expectations after revised April readings showed a smaller decline than previously reported.

‘Temporary Soft Spot’
“We’re getting indications that this is only a temporary soft spot for the economy,” said Burt White, who helps oversee $284 billion as chief investment officer at LPL Financial Corp. in Boston. “I do see a better economic picture in the back half of this year.”

A gauge of technology companies in the S&P 500 dropped 1.8 percent as 70 of its 74 stocks retreated.

Oracle slumped 4.1 percent to $31.14. Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison bought Sun Microsystems Inc. last year to capitalize on demand for the servers and databases used in data centers. While the hardware results may reflect Oracle’s effort to pare less-profitable machines from the lineup, they were disappointing enough to overshadow better-than-predicted performance in profit and sales of new software licenses.

Micron Technology tumbled 14 percent to $7.21. The price of dynamic random access memory, or DRAM, for personal computers dropped as supplies increased and demand from makers of consumer laptops and desktop PCs remained sluggish, the Boise, Idaho- based company said. Orders are also slowing for chips used in inexpensive mobile phones, pushing down prices, Micron Chief Executive Officer Steve Appleton said.

Bank of America
The KBW Bank Index of 24 stocks fell 1 percent. Bank of America, the largest U.S. lender by assets, retreated 1.8 percent to $10.52. JPMorgan declined 1.5 percent to $39.49.

The pace of profit growth by U.S. companies will slow as the cost of labor increases and stock investors should be wary of sovereign-debt concerns, according to Citigroup Inc.’s Tobias Levkovich.

“The rate of growth is going to diminish meaningfully,” said Levkovich, Citigroup’s New York-based chief U.S. equity strategist, in an interview today on Bloomberg Radio’s “Bloomberg Surveillance” with Tom Keene. “Margin pressures are driven by labor-cost changes, so as we’re starting to come and bring on some workers back, this is actually starting to chop into margins.”

Levkovich recommended avoiding consumer-discretionary stocks, including retail and media companies, as well as health- care shares as the government considers budget cutbacks. He said investors should be cautious about buying equities until there’s more clarity on the debt situations in Greece and the U.S.

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