US stocks fall for fourth month

Investors were unnerved by disappointing quarterly results from American International Group Inc. and Dell Inc.

stock market good 88 (photo credit: )
stock market good 88
(photo credit: )
SHARES WALL STREET Stocks fell sharply Friday after a series of depressing economic and corporate reports and high oil prices stoked concerns about the health of the economy. The major stock indexes fell more than 2.5 percent and the Dow Jones industrials lost 315 points. Investors were unnerved by disappointing quarterly results from American International Group Inc. and Dell Inc. And an index of regional business activity that Wall Street regards as a good indicator of a broader report due this week had its weakest showing in more than six years. Oil prices continued to stir concern about inflation after pushing past $103 per barrel for the first time. The Dow fell 315.79, or 2.51%, to 12,266.39. The decline more than erased the week's 200 point gain and sent stocks lower for February, the fourth straight month of declines. Broader stock indicators also tumbled. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 37.05, or 2.71%, to 1,330.63, and the Nasdaq composite index declined 60.09, or 2.58%, to 2,271.48. Insurer AIG announced a $5.29 billion quarterly loss largely because of steep declines in the value of a portfolio of contracts known as credit default swaps. Such contracts pledge to cover missed payments on debt. The company's losses caught analysts off guard, as many had expected the company to turn a profit. While each of the 30 stocks that comprise the Dow industrials showed declines, those of AIG were the steepest. The stock fell $3.29, or 6.6%, to $46.86. Computer maker Dell posted a 6% decline in its quarterly profit, falling below analysts' expectations, and warned that its business could suffer from reduced customer spending. Dell slid 97 cents, or 4.7%, to $19.90. EUROPE Shares ended February on a downbeat note, as financial stocks again pressured the main indexes, and concerns over the struggling US economy and triple-digit oil prices continued to depress sentiment. The Dow Jones Stoxx 600 index slipped 1.4% to 318.95, leading the pan-European stock market index to close February with a small loss. The German DAX 30 index dropped 1.7% to 6,748.13, the French CAC-40 index lost 1.5% to 4,790.66 and the UK's FTSE 100 index closed down 1.4% to 5,884.30. Among European banks, shares of UBS slipped 3.7% and Credit Suisse lost 2.8% in Swiss trading, while shares of Britain's HBOS declined 5%. Fuel-sensitive airlines traded lower as crude-oil prices gyrated near $102 a barrel. In London, shares of low-cost airlines easyJet and Ryanair Holdings both fell more than 4%. ASIA Most markets fell after overnight US jobs data and pessimistic comments by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's reinforced the view that the world's largest economy may be headed into a recession. The largest fall came on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, where the Nikkei 225 average fell 2.3% to 13,603.00. In Hong Kong, the blue-chip Hang Seng fell 1.1% to 24,331.7. Major indices fell in Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. CURRENCY The dollar kept spiraling down Friday, hitting another low against the euro and dropping to a three-year record against the yen, as worries about the US economy depress the currency and raise thorny issues in Europe about how to cope with the growing gap. The euro flew past its previous high to hit $1.5238, before subsiding to $1.5194 late in New York. The dollar also slumped to 103.96 Japanese yen on Friday from 105.36 yen in New York the night before. this year. In other late New York trading, the British pound fell to $1.9883 from $1.9926, while the dollar rose to 98.32 Canadian cents from 97.45 Canadian cents. COMMODITIES Soybeans for May delivery gained 24 cents to settle at $15.365 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, after earlier rising to an all-time high of $15.39 a bushel. Gold for April delivery gained $7.50 to settle at $975 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after earlier surging as high as $978.50 - a new record. Oil futures retreated from a new overnight record above $103 as the dollar gained strength and Turkish forces withdrew from northern Iraq. Light, sweet crude for April delivery fell 75 cents to settle at $101.84 a barrel on the Nymex. The contract earlier rose to a record $103.05 in electronic trading. March heating oil fell 0.59 cent to settle at $2.8397 a gallon while March gasoline futures rose 1.66 cents to settle at $2.5123 a gallon.