U.S. Stocks Fall on Draghi Comments, Earnings Reports

U.S. stocks fell, after a two-day advance in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, as corporate earnings reports disappointed and European policy makers warned the euro’s advance could hamper the region’s recovery.

Sprint Nextel Corp. fell 0.5 percent as the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier reported a drop in monthly contract subscribers. Akamai Technologies Inc. tumbled 15 percent after its forecast missed estimates. Apple Inc. rallied 3 percent as the iPhone maker said its management team and board of directors have been in “active” talks to return more cash to holders after David Einhorn urged the company to do so.

The S&P 500 slid 0.2 percent to 1,509.39 at 4 p.m. in New York. It earlier fell as much as 0.9 percent and is poised for its first weekly drop of the year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 42.47 points, or 0.3 percent, to 13,944.05. About 6.6 billion shares traded hands on U.S. exchanges today, 5.6 percent higher than the three-month average.

“We’ve moved so far so fast that the market’s just looking for any kind of sign to take something off the table,” Mark Freeman, who oversees about $14.1 billion as chief investment officer at Westwood Holdings Group Inc. in Dallas, said in a phone interview. “The market really needs a positive catalyst to take it higher.”

Draghi Speaks

The S&P 500 has rallied 5.8 percent in 2013 as U.S. lawmakers reached a budget compromise and companies reported better-than-estimated earnings. The benchmark equity gauge is about 3.6 percent below its record high reached in October 2007. It has more than doubled since bottoming in March 2009 as the Federal Reserve conducted three rounds of bond-buying to lower interest rates and boost economic growth.

Stocks worldwide fell after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi signaled policy makers are concerned that the euro’s advance could damp inflation and hamper an economic recovery.

“The exchange rate is not a policy target, but it is important for growth and price stability,” Draghi said at a press conference in Frankfurt today after the ECB kept its benchmark rate at a record low of 0.75 percent. “We want to see if the appreciation is sustained, and if it alters our assessment of the risks to price stability.”

The euro fell 0.9 percent to $1.34 today. It reached a 14-month high against the dollar this month and a three-year high against the yen. It has climbed 11 percent on a trade-weighted basis since Draghi pledged on July 26 to do whatever is needed to preserve Europe’s monetary union, a comment that helped end the turmoil raging through the region’s bond markets.

‘Contagion Effect’

“There’s concern that Europe will implode,” Jeff Sica, president and chief investment officer at Morristown, NJ-based SICA Wealth Management, which oversees more than $1 billion in assets, said in a phone interview. “Investors are worried about what the contagion effect is going to be on the U.S. economy.”

Applications for jobless benefits dropped to 366,000 in the week ended Feb. 2, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 360,000 claims, according to the median in a Bloomberg survey. A separate report showed productivity, the measure of employee output per hour, decreased at a 2 percent annual rate, the worst performance in almost two years, after a 3.2 percent gain in the prior three months.

‘Frustrating’ Data

“It’s frustrating not to see the employment number improving more than it is, but at least it’s heading in the right direction,” Jeffrey Davis, chief investment officer at Boston-based Lee Munder Capital Group, said in a telephone interview. His firm oversees $5 billion. “There’s pretty good momentum in the market. I don’t think it will be disrupted by these numbers.”

The CBOE Volatility Index for the S&P 500, known as the VIX, jumped 0.7 percent to 13.50. The gauge is up 4.7 percent so far this week, poised for the biggest weekly rally of the year.

Eight out of 10 groups in the S&P 500 declined today. Material, energy and financial stocks fell the most, losing at least 0.4 percent as investors sold shares of companies most tied to economic growth. The Morgan Stanley Cyclical Index of 30 U.S. companies erased 0.6 percent. All 11 stocks in the S&P Supercomposite Homebuilding Index retreated, as the gauge slumped 1.2 percent.

Sprint dropped 3 cents to $5.74 after the number of monthly contract subscribers fell by 243,000 in the fourth quarter. Analysts expected a subscriber loss of almost 206,000, according to an average of eight estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Earnings Season

Akamai, a company that helps customers speed the delivery of online content, tumbled $6.32 to $35.26 after forecasting first-quarter revenue of $352 million to $362 million, short of the $369.8 million estimate.

Teradata Corp. tumbled 7.1 percent to $61.82. The data-storage software company forecast profit this year will be between $3.05 and $3.20 a share, compared with analysts’ average estimate of $3.15.

News Corp. slipped 2.3 percent to $27.56 after cutting its profit outlook because of declining ratings for shows such as “American Idol” and “X Factor.” The media company said operating income will grow by a “mid-to high-single-digit” percentage for the fiscal year ending in June, down from an earlier forecast of growth that could exceed 10 percent.

Prudential Financial Inc., the No. 2 U.S. life insurer, dropped 2.8 percent to $56.90 after posting a fourth-quarter loss on costs tied to fluctuation of currencies including the yen, which tumbled versus the dollar in the fourth quarter.

Yelp, Retailers

Yelp Inc. lost 4.6 percent to $21.35. The website that lets consumers review local businesses reported a wider fourth-quarter loss than analysts estimated as it boosted spending on expansion into new markets.

U.S. retailers fell even after reporting monthly same-store sales gains. Gap Inc. lost 3 percent to $32.23. The largest U.S. apparel chain boosted sales 8 percent last month, double the average estimate of 4 percent. Limited Brands Inc. erased 3.3 percent to $45.68 even after posting a 9 percent gain in same-store sales, or almost three times the average projection.

Apple climbed $13.52 to $468.22. The Cupertino, California-based company said in a statement today that it’s in “active discussions” about returning cash to shareholders.

Greenlight Suit

Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital Inc., an Apple investor, urged the world’s most valuable company to return more of its $137.1 billion in cash. Greenlight asked fellow holders to vote against a proposal -- outlined in the company’s annual proxy statement - - that would eliminate preferred stock. Greenlight sued to block the measure, asking a federal court in Manhattan to bar Apple from certifying votes cast in its favor.

American Express Co. jumped 2.6 percent to $62.14, for the biggest gain in the Dow. Chief Executive Officer Ken Chenault and Group President Steve Squeri on investor day focused on the flexibility of the company’s model to generate “attractive earnings growth even in a less robust top-line environment,” Citigroup Inc. analyst Donald Fandetti wrote in a note dated today. Fandetti recommends investors buy shares of the biggest U.S. credit-card issuer by purchases.

O’Reilly Automotive Inc. rallied 8.1 percent to $100.04 for the third-biggest gain in the S&P 500. The auto-parts chain forecast earnings in 2013 of at least $5.57 a share, exceeding the $5.44 average profit estimate by analysts.

Yahoo! Inc., the biggest U.S. Web portal, rose 2.4 percent to $20.32 after Pivotal Research Group LLC analyst Brian Wieser raised his recommendation on the shares to buy from hold.

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