Profit worries, oil nag stocks

2/07/2008 - 19:26

By Kristina Cooke

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks slipped in erratic trade on Wednesday as investors worried about the toll soaring oil prices are taking on the economy and corporate profits.

Shares of General Motors dropped more than 10 percent after Merrill Lynch said the automaker will need to raise $15 billion to shore up liquidity, adding bankruptcy is "not impossible" if the auto market continues to slump.

Coal mining company shares, including Consol Energy sank, and were among the biggest sector drags on the S&P 500 as the price of coal fell.

Adding to the sour mood, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said high oil prices, further home price declines and capital markets turmoil will prolong the American economy's slowdown.

But modest gains in financial stocks kept losses in check. Deutsche Bank ,helped calm some of the concerns about banks when Germany's biggest lender said it now expects a quarterly profit compared with a loss a year ago and would not need any more capital.

The Nasdaq fell more than the Dow and the S&P 500, as investors sold shares of big-cap technology companies such as Intel Corp on concerns about the economy.

"I think the third quarter is going to be a quarter that is singled out as a period where profit estimates come in line with realistic expectation," said Peter Kenny, managing director at Knight Equity Markets in Jersey City, New Jersey. "You will see profit estimates across the board, not just for financials, lowered."

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> fell 7.09 points, or 0.06 percent, to 11,375.17, while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> slipped 2.42 points, or 0.19 percent, to 1,282.49. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was down 17.64 points, or 0.77 percent, at 2,287.33.

Deutsche Bank's announcement underpinned gains among bank stocks, with shares of JPMorgan Chase & Co up 3.1 percent to $35.08. The S&P financials sub-index <.GSPF> rose more than 1 percent.

Nervousness abounded a day before the key monthly jobs report. On Wednesday, a report showed U.S. private employers slashed 79,000 jobs in June -- which may spell bad news for the government's report due before Thursday's opening bell.

Caterpillar was the biggest drag on the Dow, with its stock down 2.8 percent at $72.02. Shares of General Motors fell 10.5 percent to $10.52. Intel Corp's stock lost 1.1 percent to $21.32.

The Dow Jones coal index <.DJUSCL> was down 10.2 percent in afternoon trading, led by a 10.4 percent drop in shares of Consol Energy.

The ADP's employment report aside, Wednesday's data brought some brighter news as well, with a boost in demand for aircraft lifting new orders at U.S. factories by an unexpectedly large 0.6 percent in May.

U.S. crude for August delivery was up $1.38 at $142.32 a barrel.

(Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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