Markets Finish Higher as Wall Street Mulls Lehman Plan
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Stocks ended a temperamental session moderately higher today as investors bought up the stocks of energy, materials, and consumer-staple companies, but remained cautious about the beleaguered financial sector.
Bank and brokerage stocks finished mostly lower after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. said it plans to sell a majority stake in its investment management business and spin off its troubled mortgage assets.
Yesterday, unease about Lehman touched off a broad selloff on worries that the No. 4 American securities company had few options to raise capital. The already beaten down stock lost nearly half its value yesterday as investors fretted the company would succumb to soured mortgage debt and other financial ills.
Bargain-seeking investors often pick over hard-hit stocks after big pullbacks, so some buying wasn’t surprising today. Investors bought up energy names after they tumbled yesterday and looked to defensive areas like consumer staples.
But Lehman shares fell another 54 cents, or 6.9%, to close at $7.25, after plummeting 45% yesterday.
“They’re trying to buy time, but it’s very dangerous on Wall Street to buy time. You need to be able to do business,” a portfolio manager at Merk Funds, Axel Merk, said of Lehman’s plans. “I don’t think we’re at the end of the financial problems in the markets.”
According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 38.19, or 0.34% to 11,268.92, after dipping briefly into negative territory, rising by nearly 150 points, and then pulling back again.
Broader stock indicators also rose. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 7.53, or 0.61%, to 1,232.04, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 18.89, or 0.85%, to 2,228.70.
The Dow fell 2.4% yesterday, essentially erasing big gains logged Monday, while the S&P 500 fell 3.4% and the Nasdaq composite index lost 2.6%.
Bond prices fell today after a run-up yesterday. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.61% from 3.59% late yesterday. The dollar moved higher against most other major currencies, while gold prices fell.
Oil fell in fractious trading as strength in the dollar and indications of a weakening economy overshadowed OPEC’s decision to cut back excess production. Light, sweet crude fell 68 cents to settle at $102.58 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Wall Street has grappled with worries about the financial sector since the near-collapse and subsequent sale of Bear Stearns Cos. in March. Banks such as Lehman have struggled in the past year with unwieldy amounts of mortgage-backed securities and other risky investments on their books that have plunged in value.
Many Wall Street observers contend the stock market will not be able to carve out a sustained recovery until investors can determine the scale of losses in the financial sector. Global banks have written off more than $300 billion in bad investments.
“There’s always hope every time one of these shoes drops that it’s the last shoe, and that lasts for a day,” the chief investment officer at Cozad Asset Management, Ron Kiddoo, said, pointing to Wall Street’s about-face yesterday when relief over a government bailout of mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac gave way to fresh worries over Lehman.
“You get the feeling that they don’t really all know where the problems are,” he said. “We need a quarter with these financial companies where they’re not doing all these big write-offs.”
Washington Mutual Inc. sank 98 cents, or 30%, to $2.32 after credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services reduced its outlook on the bank and anxiety grew over its ability to stay in business.
But in the energy group, Exxon Mobil Corp. rose $1.99, or 2.7%, to $75.25, while Chevron Corp. advanced $2.37, or 3%, to $81.16.
U.S. Steel Corp. rose $6.36, or 6.8%, to $100.05, while Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold Inc. rose $4.02, or 6.2%, to $69.18.
Consumer-staples companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. advanced. Wal-Mart rose 89 cents to $62.02 after setting a new 52-week high of $62.48; the previous high was $62.36.
FedEx Corp. rose $3.11, or 3.7%, to $87.86 after the package delivery company said it expects its fiscal first-quarter profit will top its own forecast because of lower fuel costs and efforts to trim expenses.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 8 to 7 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.55 billion shares.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 9.87, or 1.40%, to 717.16.
Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 0.44%. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.91%, Germany’s DAX index declined 0.37%, and France’s CAC-40 fell 0.23%.