Stocks Fall as Year-End Rally Stalls

Stocks fell moderately Wednesday as investors found little reason to extend a year-end buying spree.

The market is more than a month into a fourth-quarter rally that has started to feel halfhearted, with strong early gains in many sessions being whittled away by afternoon selling.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 45.95, or 0.42 percent, to 10,810.91. Broader stock indicators were lower. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 6.33, or 0.5 percent, to 1,257.37, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 8.75, or 0.39 percent, to 2,252.01.

"I don't see a lot of people, just based on the volume we've had, betting on a bull market," said Ned Riley, chief investment officer of Riley Asset Management in Boston.

The only significant data expected Wednesday was a mid-quarter business update from Texas Instruments Inc. late in the day. Data on petroleum inventories came in better than expected, but that didn't improve Wall Street's mood.

Bonds rose, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note falling to 4.52 percent from 4.48 percent late Tuesday. The U.S. dollar was up against other major currencies in European trading. Gold prices set new highs in Europe for the second straight day.

Surprisingly strong weekly inventory numbers from the Department of Energy sent crude oil futures lower. A barrel of light crude was quoted at $59.21, down 73 cents, in trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

This is a market where neither the bulls nor the bears have the courage of their convictions, said John Caldwell, chief investment strategist for McDonald Financial Group, part of Cleveland-based KeyCorp.

"This is very much a shoot first and ask questions later kind of market," he said.

Caldwell is one of many strategists who doubted the strength and dept of stocks' fourth-quarter rally. One of their arguments: If this rally is just a case of Wall Street wish fulfillment, it could vanish in January.

Bear Stearns' strategy team said in a note this week, "The market is overbought, in our view, and, amidst a prolonged Fed tightening phase, it is difficult to see how leading indicators could continue to accelerate from here. If anything, it appears the market is setting itself up for a difficult start to the New Year."

The rally, Bear strategists said, "has more to do with sentiment than fundamentals."

In company news, Ford Motor Co. (F) rose 9 cents to $8.20 on the latest reports about its resturcturing plans. The reports said the company could cut as many as 30,000 jobs by 2011. Its board of directors is meeting Wednesday and Thursday to consider restructuring plans, the company said.

General Motors Corp. (GM), which has had huge losses this year amid increasing health care costs and falling U.S. market share, has named Frederick "Fritz" Henderson, a longtime executive who has been overseeing the restructuring of its European operations as its new chief financial officer. Henderson is currently chairman of GM Europe and was president of GM Asia Pacific from 2002 to 2004.

Separately, a key United Auto Workers negotiator told local union leaders that a strike against GM's former subsidiary, the auto supplier Delphi Corp., "appears more likely than not." GM rose 65 cents to $23.04. Delphi is operating under bankruptcy protection.

Gannett Co. rose $1.14 to $60.33 after the CEO said the company would take a "hard look" at any potential acquisition opportunities, including Knight Ridder Inc., a major newspaper company that has been forced by its largest shareholders to explore a sale.

Diversified manufacturer 3M Co. (MMM) fell 32 cents to $77.38 after it named George W. Buckley, the chairman and chief executive of boat maker Brunswick Corp. (BC), as its chairman, president and chief executive officer, effective immediately. Buckley replaced interim Chairman and Chief Executive Robert S. Morrison. The company focused its search on outsiders after Jim McNerney left July 1 to lead Boeing Co.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 4.57, or 0.66 percent, to 683.01.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by roughly 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange where volume was 1.59 billion shares, down from 1.60 billion at the same time Tuesday.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.40 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.18 percent, Germany's DAX index fell 0.64 percent, and France's CAC-40 dropped 0.36 percent.