Stocks Retreat on Bernanke Comments, Bear Stearns' Woes

U.S. stocks fell Wednesday on deepening concerns that a crisis in lending could spread and a warning from the Federal Reserve chairman that weakness in housing could hurt economic growth for some time.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 53.33 points, or 0.38 percent, to end at 13,918.22, a day after it hit an intraday high above the 14,000 milestone.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 3.20 points, or 0.21 percent, to finish at 1,546.17. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 12.80 points, or 0.47 percent, to close at 2,699.49.

Disappointing results from technology bellwethers also weighed on stocks. Shares of Intel Corp. (INTC) and Yahoo (YHOO) fell nearly 5 percent after their quarterly scorecards fell short of some expectations.

The sour mood was set late Tuesday when Bear Stearns said two hedge funds with big bets on the sector were nearly worthless, confirming Wall Street's worst suspicions. Then Fed chief Ben Bernanke further rattled investors by saying that the worst was not over for the housing downturn.

"Subprime concerns are driving the market lower — is Bear Stearns an isolated situation or is it contagious?" said Georges Yared, chief investment strategist at Yared Investment Research, in Minneapolis.

"And the chairman of the Fed is throwing cold water on the parade in terms of lower growth expectations and an extended housing correction."

All major indexes fell more than 1 percent to session lows just after midday. But during the afernoon, shares of major energy companies helped curb some of the market's losses. Exxon Mobil (XOM) gained 2.3 percent to $91.15, as U.S. crude oil ended up 1.4 percent, or $1.03, at $75.05 a barrel.

Shares of investment bank Bear Stearns Cos Inc. (BSC) fell 0.4 percent to $139.34 on the New York Stock Exchange.


But Bear Stearns was not the only company causing investors concern, with the search on for further fallout from the lending crisis.

Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. stock fell on market rumors —which were denied by a spokeswoman at the bank— that the investment bank would announce its exposure to subprime loans was wider than previously disclosed.

Lehman's stock was down 1.9 percent at $71.65 after falling to a session low of $70.30 on the NYSE.

JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s stock fell 2.4 percent to $48.74, after the bank's chief financial officer said it tripled the amount set aside for loan losses as even borrowers with good credit defaulted on home equity loans.

Shares of United Technologies Corp. (UTX) fell 1.7 percent to $75.56 and were among the top drags on the Dow, after an executive at the diversified manufacturer said the slowdown in the U.S. housing market is worse than expected.

Adding to worries about the housing market, Pulte Homes Inc.(PHM), the No. 3 U.S. home builder, said late Tuesday it expects a second-quarter loss. Pulte shares fell 2.3 percent to $22.19 on the NYSE.


Pfizer Inc. (PFE) fell 3.2 percent to $25.13 after the drug maker reported earnings and revenues that missed Wall Street's estimates. .

Chip maker Intel reported profit margins that fell short of the market's expectations, driving its stock down 4.8 percent to $25.06 on the Nasdaq. Internet media company Yahoo reported a dip in quarterly profit, sending its shares down 4.8 percent to $26.20.

With so much else going on, normally market-moving indicators took a back seat. U.S. consumer prices rose by a slightly bigger-than-expected 0.2 percent in June, the Labor Department reported.

Building permits — a measure of future construction plans —plunged, but housing starts rose last month.

Trading was moderate on the NYSE, with about 1.77 billion shares changing hands, below last year's estimated daily average of 1.84 billion, while on Nasdaq, about 2.25 billion shares traded, above last year's daily average of 2.02 billion.

Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones by a ratio of about 2 to 1 on the NYSE and by about 3 to 2 on Nasdaq.