Stocks extended a losing streak for a fifth day on Tuesday on mounting concerns about the economy after bearish comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
The market, which started off on a positive note after the S&P 500 hit a two-month low in the previous session, reversed course to turn negative after Bernanke started speaking. He acknowledged a slowdown in the economy, but offered no suggestion the central bank is considering any further monetary stimulus to support growth.
Bernanke also issued a stern warning to lawmakers in Washington who are considering aggressive budget cuts, saying they have the potential to derail the economic recovery.
It's not like the market was expecting a positive comment from him, but not quite this negative, either. But I think the impact would be limited. I don't see this carrying over to tomorrow's market, said Stephen Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Morgan in San Francisco.
Bernanke indicated the latest bout of weakness probably would not last very long and should give way to some growth in the second half of the year.
A batch of weak economic data recently, especially in the job market, has pushed major indexes below their support levels. The S&P 500 is down 4.2 percent from a month ago.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> slipped 19.15 points, or 0.16 percent, to end at 12,070.81. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> declined 1.23 points, or 0.10 percent, to 1,284.94. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> shed 1.00 point, or 0.04 percent, to finish at 2,701.56.
Defensive stocks in the healthcare and utility sectors added to gains after Bernanke's comments, but financials and info technology, sectors closely related to growth, turned negative. The KBW bank index <.BKX> which rose 1 percent earlier, ended down 0.2 percent.
Volume was thin with 6.67 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Amex and Nasdaq, below the daily average of 7.61 billion.
The problem for institutions on a day like today is the volume being light. Any concerted effort to raise funds (sell positions) could have a disproportionate impact on pricing as buyers will be on the thin side, wrote Peter Kenny, managing director at Knight Equity Markets in Jersey City, New Jersey, in a note to clients.
In company news, International Paper Co
Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,684 to 1,297, while on the Nasdaq, advancers beat decliners by 1,440 to 1,131.
(Reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Jan Paschal)