Most U.S. Stocks Fall as Europe Offsets Bank, Tech Rally

U.S. Stocks Decline Amid Concern Over European Debt Crisis
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Most U.S. stocks fell, after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose to its highest level since April, as investor concern about Europe’s debt crisis overshadowed a rally in technology and financial companies.

Best Buy Co. lost 10 percent after saying its founder declined an offer from the board to conduct due diligence and go to shareholders with his buyout offer. Apple Inc. jumped 2.6 percent to its highest price ever, pacing a technology rally. Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. added at least 1.1 percent as financial companies recovered from early losses.

The S&P 500 was almost unchanged at 1,418.13 at 4 p.m. in New York, within a point of a four-year high set in April. The gauge fell 0.4 percent earlier as Germany’s Bundesbank stepped up its criticism of the European Central Bank’s bond-buying program. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 3.56 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 13,271.64. Seven stocks fell for every five declining on U.S. exchanges, with volume at 4.9 billion shares, 23 percent below the three-month average.

“We’re at a pretty formidable technical resistance here,” Michael Strauss, who helps oversee about $26 billion of assets as the chief investment strategist at Commonfund in Wilton, Connecticut, said in a telephone interview. “The Bundesbank does have a hard problem with this,” he said, referring to the ECB’s bond-buying program. “Germany is being put in the position as being the lender of last resort in Europe.”

The S&P 500 last week capped its longest stretch of weekly gains since January 2011 as economic reports beat forecasts and Germany backed the ECB’s bond-buying plan. Trading volume and volatility have dropped this month as vacationing traders await policy clues from the Federal Reserve’s summit at the end of the month and an ECB meeting in September.

‘Stability Risks’

Government bond purchases “entail significant stability risks,” the Bundesbank said in its monthly report today. The ECB’s governing council may decide at its next gathering to set yield limits on each country’s debt, Spiegel magazine reported yesterday, without saying where it got the information. The ECB said the council has not discussed any plan to target the bond yields and that “it is absolutely misleading to report on decisions,” a bank spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.

Reports in the U.S. this week will show that combined purchases of new and existing houses increased to a 4.89 million annual rate in July from a 4.72 million pace in June, according to the median forecasts in surveys of economists before releases from the National Association of Realtors on Aug. 22 and the Commerce Department the next day. Bookings for long-lasting goods may have climbed the most this year, a release from the Commerce Department will show Aug. 24, according to the median estimate.

Jackson Hole

The Fed will on Aug. 22 release minutes from the Aug. 1 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, when policy makers declined to initiate a third round of monetary stimulus, a policy known as quantitative easing. The S&P 500 has rallied 11 percent since June 1 on speculation the central bank may signal more easing at the Kansas City Fed’s annual conference on Aug. 30 to Sept. 1 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The 13 percent rally in the S&P 500 this year through Aug. 17 has lifted the gauge to its highest level ever compared with strategists’ forecasts, a sign that the best may be over for U.S. equities in 2012.

Shares have climbed 2.1 percent above the average projection of 1,389 from 13 firms from Morgan Stanley to JPMorgan tracked by Bloomberg. That’s the biggest premium on record for this time of year, according to data going back to 1999. Estimates by strategists in August have come true for the last three years, with the S&P 500 rising 11 percent on average through December, the data show.

‘Core Fundamentals’

“The core fundamentals are not really a reason to be long stocks,” said Barry Knapp, the New York-based head of U.S. equity strategy at Barclays Plc, in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “In the Loop” with Deirdre Bolton. “Core fundamentals, earnings and revenue growth have deteriorated to a great extent.”

Phone and consumer discretionary companies posted the biggest declines out of 10 groups in the S&P 500, falling more than 0.5 percent.

Best Buy erased 10 percent for the biggest decline in the S&P 500 to $18.16. The retailer’s board proposed that founder Richard Schulze, beginning in January, be allowed to take his buyout offer to shareholders, should the board decide to reject any definitive proposal to acquire shares. Schulze didn’t accept the proposal, according to Best Buy.

Lowe’s Tumbles

Lowe’s Cos. tumbled 5.8 percent to $26.26. The second-largest U.S. home-improvement retailer reported second-quarter earnings that trailed analysts’ estimates as comparable-store sales fell. Adjusted earnings per share were 65 cents. Analysts had projected 70 cents. The retailer cut its full-year profit forecast to $1.64 a share from a projection of $1.83 a share in May.

Waste Management Inc. decreased 3 percent to $34.60 after Barron’s reported the trash handler may be poised to fall as much as 15 percent because of operating performance. Garbage volume has been little changed to down for years because of conservation, recycling and slow industrial growth, Barron’s said.

Corinthian Colleges Inc. slipped 1.2 percent to $2.42. The for-profit college operator forecast revenue in the first quarter will be no more than $405 million, missing the average analyst estimate of $406.4 million.

Financial stocks rose 0.3 percent after dropping as much as 0.3 percent earlier. Bank of America, the second-largest U.S. bank by assets, climbed 1.9 percent to $8.15. JPMorgan, the biggest bank in the nation by assets, added 1.1 percent to $37.37.

Apple Soars

Technology stocks increased 0.3 percent. Hewlett-Packard Co. soared 2.9 percent to $20.09 for the biggest gain in the Dow.

Apple, the world’s most valuable company, advanced 2.6 percent to $665.15. The company’s market value reached $623.52 billion, higher than Microsoft Corp.’s record of $620.6 billion, according to Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P, in a note today. The iPhone and iPad maker surpassed $600 billion in market value last week on speculation that production has started on a smaller version of the iPad tablet as well as a new television product.

Facebook Inc., the operator of the world’s largest social-networking service, jumped 5 percent to $20.01 after falling last week to a record low that was close to half the stock’s initial public offering price of $38 in May.

Health-care stocks added 0.3 percent as a group. Coventry Health Care Inc. surged 20 percent to $42.04. Aetna Inc., a health insurer, will pay $42.08 a share for the medical-care provider in cash and stock, the companies said in a statement today. Aetna’s shares climbed 5.6 percent to $40.18.

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