Monday, November 17, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street moved lower in the last hour of trading Monday as investors digested more signs of economic weakness, including a huge round of layoffs in the financial sector.

After a turbulent week that sent the Dow Jones industrials down nearly 340 points, investors found little solace in the latest news. Stocks began the session sharply lower, moved into positive territory by midday but then drifted lower in the afternoon.

In a signal that banks are still struggling in the wake of massive losses tied to bad mortgage debt, Citigroup Inc. is cutting another 53,000 jobs in the coming quarters. The company said that in addition to job cuts, it plans to lower expenses by about 20 percent and has reduced its assets by more than 20 percent since the first quarter of the year.

Investors were also nervously waiting to see whether the nation’s troubled automakers would get a bailout. Senate Democrats, who plan to introduce legislation Monday, want to use part of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout to help prop up Detroit’s Big Three carmakers: General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC. A vote was expected as early as Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a better-than-expected reading on industrial production did little to boost investor sentiment. The Federal Reserve said Monday that industrial output rose 1.3 percent last month, after plunging in September by the largest amount in over 60 years. Economists, on average, had expected an increase of 0.2 percent, according to a survey by Thomson/IFR.

Still, the improvement wasn’t encouraging enough, said Anthony Conroy, managing director and head trader for BNY ConvergEx Group, adding that investors want a more concrete sign that the economy could be improving.

“I think we’re seeing a tremendous amount of bad economic data,” he said. “Earnings have basically hit a wall and don’t seem like they are coming back anytime soon.”

In late afternoon trading, the Dow fell 116.05, or 1.37 percent, to 8,381.26 after dropping more than 250 points earlier in the session.

Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 9.99, or 1.14 percent, to 863.30, while the Nasdaq composite index dropped 16.16, or 1.07 percent, to 1,500.69.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 1.49, or 0.33 percent, to 458.01.

Declining issues outpaced advancers by a 4 to 3 margin on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to a light 810.3 million shares.

The moves on Monday followed a massive sell-off last week that saw the Dow finish down 5 percent; the S&P 500 index down 6.2 percent; and the Nasdaq down 7.9 percent. The major indexes have fallen for four of the past five sessions.

Analysts believe the market is still searching for a bottom after last month’s huge losses, and that the pattern of volatility will continue for some time. Woody Dorsey, president of financial forecasting firm Market Semiotics, said the market is trapped in a seesaw behavior.

“It is a very technical trade,” he said. “The difficulty is there is no dominant positive or negative story that the market is operating on. … There’s nothing here that people can grab on to.”

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