S&P 500 Trims Longest Monthly Gain in 1 Year on Bernanke

Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve,
Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, listens during a House Financial Serves Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 29, 2012. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomber

U.S. stocks fell, trimming the longest monthly rally in a year for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke gave no indication of further measures to stimulate the economy.

Commodity shares had the biggest decline in the S&P 500 among 10 groups as gold tumbled the most since December. Newmont Mining Corp., the largest U.S. gold producer, slumped 4.2 percent. First Solar Inc., the world’s largest maker of thin-film solar panels, retreated 11 percent after reporting an unexpected loss. Apple Inc. topped $500 billion in market capitalization for the first time, rising 1.3 percent.

The S&P 500 fell 0.5 percent to 1,365.68 at 4 p.m. New York time, retreating from an almost four-year high. It still rose 4.1 percent in February, capping a third straight month of gains. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 53.05 points, or 0.4 percent, to 12,952.07. The Nasdaq Composite Index topped 3,000 for the first time since 2000 before falling 0.7 percent to 2,966.89. The Russell 2000 Index slid 1.6 percent to 810.94.

“We have a bit of investor nosebleed,” said Bruce McCain, who helps oversee more than $20 billion as chief investment strategist at the private-banking unit of KeyCorp in Cleveland. “There are still things to worry about. With the absence of more stimulus, that would lead us to question: what’s there to move us out of some of that? In addition, we’ve had a big run-up in stocks. No trees grow to the sky.”

The S&P 500 has risen 8.6 percent this year on better-than-estimated economic data. Measures of technology and financial shares had the biggest gains among 10 groups in 2012, adding at least 13 percent. The Dow, which yesterday topped 13,000, capped its fifth straight month of gains.

‘Far From Normal’

Stocks fell as Bernanke also said in congressional testimony that the job market remains “far from normal” and rising oil prices may cause inflation to grow temporarily. Earlier today, stocks gained as data showed the U.S. economy expanded more than forecast and business activity accelerated.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a bull or a bear, you have to acknowledge that the economy is growing,” Ethan Anderson, senior portfolio manager for Rehmann Financial in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said in a telephone interview. His firm manages $1.5 billion. “Yet the market is like a roller-coaster. People want to ride it, but you got to give them a chance to get off. Once that happens, it can continue to move higher.”

Commodity shares in the S&P 500 fell 1.7 percent as a group. Newmont Mining slid 4.2 percent to $59.43. Alcoa Inc. declined 1.9 percent to $10.17.

Biggest Decline

First Solar tumbled 11 percent, the biggest decline in the S&P 500, to $32.30. The company also reduced its 2012 revenue forecast to $3.5 billion to $3.8 billion, compared with a December forecast of $3.7 billion to $4 billion.

Staples Inc. declined 8.4 percent to $14.66. The world’s largest office products company gave a 2012 forecast that was “lower quality” than analysts expected, Jefferies Group Inc.’s Daniel Binder wrote in a report.

MetroPCS Communications Inc. dropped 6.5 percent to $10.30. The Texas-based pay-as-you-go wireless carrier was cut to “neutral” from “buy” at UBS AG.

DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. lost 12 percent, the most since July 2005, to $17.26. The maker of the “Kung Fu Panda” films said fourth-quarter profit tumbled 72 percent as DVD sales declined.

Apple rose 1.3 percent to a record $542.44, gaining for a fifth day. Apple investors are anticipating a sales boost from the company’s latest iPad tablet computer, due on March 7.

Potential Dividend

They’re also banking on a new iPhone coming by the third quarter and the possibility of Apple offering a dividend, its first since 1995, said Howard Ward, a money manager at Gamco Investors Inc. in Rye, New York. Demand for Apple’s products has helped the company increase profit faster than its stock price, making the price-to-earnings ratio more favorable, he said.

“Impressively, its market cap has risen to the $500 billion level as its price-to-earnings multiple has actually contracted,” said Ward, who helps oversee $36 billion in assets. “At 12 times this year’s expectation of earnings, it stands in stark contrast to the experience of Cisco Systems, which sold at over 100 times earnings when it approached the $500 billion level in 2000.”

A measure of homebuilders in S&P indexes climbed 3.6 percent as a weekly survey by International Strategy & Investment Group showed an index of homebuilder activity rose to the highest level since April 2006.

Orders Climb

Toll Brothers Inc. jumped 4.6 percent to $23.46. Chief Executive Officer Douglas Yearley Jr. told CNBC yesterday that orders for the spring season have surged 45 percent. PulteGroup Inc. added 6.3 percent to $8.82. Lennar Corp. rose 3.9 percent to $23.38.

BlackRock Inc.’s Laurence D. Fink said savers need to become more aggressive investors as returns on bank accounts and Treasuries shrink and people grow older. The traditional mix of putting 60 percent of assets in stocks and 40 percent in bonds is inadequate in a “new world” characterized by an aging population, a reduction in borrowing and risk-taking by individuals and governments, and a greater role of emerging economies.

“I’ve personally said I would be 100 percent in equities,” Fink, 59, said in prepared remarks today to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “Most investors need a more diversified portfolio, but virtually every investor has to find ways to achieve better returns than they’ll get in cash or government bonds for the foreseeable future.”

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