- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 17, 2009

NEW YORK | Stocks ended a strong week with a flash of selling after Bank of America Corp. and General Electric Co. signaled that businesses and consumers are still struggling to pay off their debts.

The market slid Friday as quarterly results from the companies dented hopes that earnings would show strong signs of improvement in the July-September period. A rise in oil prices also helped the market end well off its lows, repeating a pattern seen earlier in the week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 67 points to finish just below the 10,000 mark, which it had broken through on Wednesday for the first time in a year. Despite the drop-stocks still posted big gains for the week.

Bank of America lost more than $2.2 billion in the third quarter. The bank wrote down almost $10 billion in bad loans, about $1 billion more than in the previous quarter. The loss was steeper than expected and the write-offs stirred fears that struggling consumers won’t be able to increase their spending.

Rivals Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. also posted higher loan losses as part of their financial results this week. The reports underscored the challenges brought by high unemployment, weak consumer spending and diminished home values.

“It is, after all, the largest consumer bank and it may have just offered up a reminder that financial strains in the household sector haven’t gone away,” said David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff.

GE’s report also revealed signs of credit weakness. The conglomerate’s profit dropped 44 percent, hurt by much lower earnings at its financial arm, GE Capital, which loans money to a variety of businesses.

A drop in the mood of consumers fanned concerns that people nervous about jobs and the economy will hold off spending. The Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index fell to 69.4 in a preliminary reading for October from 73.5 in September.

Tim Knepp, chief investment officer of Genworth Financial Asset Management, said the reports from Bank of America and GE indicated that the stock market could be getting too far ahead of the economy. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is up 60.8 percent from a 12-year low in early March.

The Dow fell 67.03, or 0.7 percent, to 9,995.91 after being down as much as 123 points at its low of the day. The broader S&P; 500 Index fell 8.88, or 0.8 percent, to 1,087.68, and the Nasdaq Composite Index fell 16.49, or 0.8 percent, to 2,156.80.

Two stocks fell for every one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.4 billion, in line with Thursday.

For the week, the Dow rose 1.3 percent, the S&P; 500 Index added 1.5 percent and the Nasdaq rose 0.8 percent.

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