July 20, 2012

Stocks fall Friday after three days of gains

After three days of gains, U.S. stocks fell Friday, as a mixed bag of corporate news and ongoing debt problems in Europe prompted investors to take some money off the table.

Dow Jones industrial average dropped 121 points, or 0.9%, the S&P 500 dipped 14 points, or 1%, and the Nasdaq fell 41 points, or 1.4%.

Financial shares were among the biggest decliners, with Bank of America leading the Dow's slide. JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley also fell, with shares down between 1% and 4%.

Investors were parsing through a big batch of quarterly earnings reports.

General Electric was one of the top gainers on the Dow, after the company reported earnings ahead of the opening bell that topped estimates, despite weaker-than-expected revenue.

But shares of Advanced Micro Devices and Chipotle Mexican Grill tumbled on disappointing results.

Investors had been bracing for a lackluster quarter. While nearly all of the companies that have reported so far have topped earnings expectations, analysts' forecasts were very low to begin with, and many companies, like GE, have been missing revenue targets, noted Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist at Schaeffer's Investment Research.

In fact, just 45% of companies that have reported have topped revenue expectations. That's the lowest percentage since the first quarter of 2009, according to FactSet. Over the past four years on average, 56% of companies reported actual sales above the mean sales estimate at this same point in earnings season.

Meanwhile, there are still signs of weakness in the broader economy, and Europe's debt crisis remains a concern.

Eurozone finance ministers met Friday, and finalized the terms of the first part, or €30 billion, of a bailout for Spanish banks, but the deal provided little relief for investors.

Much like Greece, Spaniards have taken to the streets in violent protest of tough austerity cuts, which the eurozone's fourth-largest economy needs to make. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Spanish bond jumped to a record high of 7.28% Thursday.

"Europe's issues are obviously still on the table," said Detrick. "This coupled with some disappointment on the revenue front from most companies has led to some skittishness ahead of the weekend."

Despite Friday's losses, the three major indexes ended the week with modest gains. The Dow and S&P 500 rose 0.4%, while the Nasdaq climbed 0.6%.

While the last several months have been volatile, stocks are still enjoying solid gains for the year. The Dow is up 5%, the S&P 500 has gained 8% and the Nasdaq has rallied 12%.

World markets: European stocks finished sharply lower. Britain's FTSE 100 slipped 1.1%, the DAX in Germany shed 1.8% and France's CAC 40 fell 2%.

Asian markets ended mixed. The Shanghai Composite fell 0.7% and Japan's Nikkei dropped 1.4%, while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong added 0.4%.

Companies: Xerox shares were lower after the company reported second-quarter earnings that were in line with forecasts, but the company missed revenue estimates and issued downward guidance for the current quarter.

Shares of SanDisk soared a day after the company blew past analysts' expectations and said it expects strong demand for the remainder of the year. SanDisk makes flash technology used in mobile phones, tablets and eReaders.

Google shares rose a day after the search giant reported an 11% increase in profit.

Early Friday, entertainment company Viacom reached a "long-term" deal with DirectTV, ending a week-long feud between the two. That means that DirectTV subscribers won't lose access to more than a dozen channels, including MTV, Nick and Comedy Central.

IPOs were also in focus early Friday. Palo Alto Networks jumped more than 30% in its public debut after pricing its initial public offering at $42 a share -- above its estimated range. Shares of travel site Kayak also climbed more than 30% on their first day of trading Friday. Kayak priced its IPO also above its estimated range, at $26 a share.

Currencies and commodities: The dollar gained against the euro and the British pound but was lower versus the Japanese yen.

Oil for August delivery fell $1.22 to $91.44 a barrel.

Gold futures for August delivery gained $2.40 to $1,582.80 an ounce.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury rose, pushing the yield down to 1.46% from 1.52% late Thursday.

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