- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2008

NEW YORK (Bloomberg) — Stocks fell as consumer confidence slid to a five-year low, property values slumped and a drop in oil and metal prices pushed commodity producers lower.

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. and Newmont Mining Co. declined as gold and copper retreated, while home builders dropped for the first time in four days on a report that housing prices plunged by the most on record. Merck & Co., the third-biggest U.S. drug maker, tumbled the most in a month after failing to win approval for a cholesterol pill. Apple Inc. and Google Inc. advanced, leading the Nasdaq Composite Index to its fourth gain in five days.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index lost 5.43 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,390.94, its second straight decline. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 39.81, or 0.3 percent, to 12,831.94. The Nasdaq added 1.7, or 0.1 percent, to 2,426.1. The Russell 2000 Index of smaller companies fell 0.9 percent to 718.93.

The dollar rose to a three-week high against the euro, and Treasury bonds advanced on speculation the Fed will signal today that it’s done cutting interest rates.

Mining companies retreated as the strengthening dollar reduced the appeal of metals as a hedge against inflation. Freeport-McMoRan, the world’s second-largest copper company, dropped $5.08, or 4.4 percent, to $110.72. Newmont, the third-biggest gold producer, lost $1.06 to close at $42.93.

D.R. Horton fell 46 cents to $16.69. Home prices will probably continue sliding, economists predict, as foreclosures push even more properties onto the market while stricter lending rules limit the number of qualified buyers.

Merck lost $4.30, or 10 percent, to $37.14. Its Cordaptive failed to win approval from U.S. regulators less than a week after it was recommended for marketing in the European Union. Merck said it plans to submit more data to the Food and Drug Administration to demonstrate the effectiveness of the treatment.

Apple climbed $2.81 to hit $175.05. Google rose $6.35 to $558.47.

Microchip Technology gained $1.48, or 4.2 percent, to $36.88. The maker of semiconductors for toasters and garage-door openers reported fourth-quarter profit of 42 cents a share.

Energy companies retreated 1.5 percent as a group and contributed the most to the drop in the S&P; 500. Crude oil fell more than $3 a barrel, the biggest decline in four weeks, after BP PLC restarted a North Sea oil pipeline and the dollar strengthened.

Under Armour Inc. tumbled $3.96, or 10 percent, to $34.62. The maker of polyester athletic clothes said first-quarter profit shrank 71 percent on higher costs and that profitability will decline this year.

“Everyone out there acknowledges if the Fed isn’t done already, it’s about done,” said Edward Hemmelgarn of Shaker Investments. “We’re in for a prolonged period of slower growth.”

Wachovia Corp. added 71 cents to close at $29.40. Shares of the fourth-largest U.S. bank were upgraded to “buy” from “hold” by Deutsche Bank AG analysts Mike Mayo and Chris Spahr, who said “no more capital raises are needed.”

Office Depot Inc. rose $1.04, or 8.7 percent, to $13. The world’s second-largest office-supplies retailer said first-quarter profit fell less than analysts estimated.

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