Market rallies for a flat finish
NEW YORK – Stocks closed little changed Thursday on another disappointing jobs report and growing concern over an investigation of banks' foreclosure practices. But the market made up earlier losses as investors anticipated that the Federal Reserve will take steps soon to strengthen the economy.
Bank and other financial stocks were pummeled as more companies suspended foreclosures on homes while taking steps to confirm that they have fully complied with the law. In a move that effectively froze the market for foreclosed homes, the attorneys general of all 50 states announced Wednesday that they are planning to investigate whether banks took all of the appropriate steps before foreclosing on hundreds of thousands of homes.
Shares of Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. fell between 2 percent and 5 percent. By comparison, the Standard & Poor's 500 index fell less than 1 percent.
After the market closed, Internet search giant Google Inc. announced that it earned almost a dollar per share more than analysts were expecting. That pushed the stock up 9 percent to $590 in afterhours trading. Given that Google is seen as a barometer of the tech industry, the market could see buying resume Friday.
The Dow ended the day down 1.51, or less than 0.01 percent, at 1,1094.57, after falling as much as 70 in the morning. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 4.29, or 0.36 percent, to 1,173.81. The Nasdaq composite index fell 5.85, or 0.2 percent, to 2,435.38.
Volume on the New York Stock Exchange came to 1.1 billion shares, where four stocks fell for every three that rose.
In recent months, any indication that the job market is growing worse had led to large selloffs on Wall Street. However, those same reports have led to a strong consensus that the Fed will step in to prevent further economic decay.
Initial claims for unemployment aid rose by 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 462,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was only the second rise in two months.
"Good news is good news and bad news is good news," said Sarah Hunt, a research analyst at Alpine Mutual Funds. The Fed's next meeting on its monetary policy ends Nov. 3 and it is widely expected the central bank will announce actions to stimulate the economy.
That expectation also helped push the dollar lower and gold higher. The Fed is expected to buy government bonds, which would drive interest rates down from already low levels. That would make gold and other currencies, where interest rates are higher, more attractive than the dollar.
Gold hit another record high. It touched a record of $1,388.10 an ounce before pulling back to $1,373.25. The dollar fell to a 15-year low against the yen and touched its lowest level against the euro since January.
"People are pretty focused on what the Fed is going to do," said Russell Croft, portfolio manager of the Croft Value Fund. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke is scheduled to give a speech Friday that could provide more details about how much money the central bank might pump into the economy.
Inflation remains a concern at the Fed. At its meeting last month, the Fed hinted that future bond purchases would help get inflation back to more historically normal levels. The lower interest rates are also aimed at sparking new borrowing and spending by companies and consumers. More spending would drive prices for goods higher.
The Labor Department released its reading on inflation at the wholesale level for September. The government said core Producer Price Index, which is a measure of the cost of goods before they reach consumers excluding volatile energy and food costs, rose in line with analysts' expectations.
Bond prices fell. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 2.51 percent from 2.42 percent late Wednesday. It has been falling regularly in recent weeks because the Fed will likely ramp up its purchase of the bonds to help the economy.
Bank of America fell 69 cents, or 5.1 percent, to $12.60, while JPMorgan Chase dropped $1.12, or 1.1 percent, to $38.72. Citigroup Inc. fell 19 cents, or 4.4 percent, to $4.06 and Wells Fargo & Co. dropped $1.09, or 4.2 percent, to $24.72.