Friday, February 22, 2008

U.S. Stocks Fall, Led by Financials; Fannie Mae, Goldman Drop

By Michael Patterson

Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. stocks fell for a second day, led by financial shares, on concern that profits at brokerage firms will decline and dropping demand for mortgages will curb growth at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. slumped after Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst Brad Hintz slashed his first-quarter profit estimates by more than 40 percent. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the largest sources of money for U.S. home loans, tumbled after Merrill Lynch & Co.'s Kenneth Bruce said the worst housing market in a quarter century will stifle earnings through 2011. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index retreated 8.4 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,334.13 at 11:55 a.m. in New York. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 77.42, or 0.6 percent, to 12,206.88. The Nasdaq Composite Index decreased 22.83, or 1 percent, to 2,276.95. More than two stocks declined for every one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange. Shares in Asia and Europe also fell. ``People are coming to grips with what is the degree of financial issues,'' David Darst, the New York-based chief investment strategist at Morgan Stanley Global Wealth Management, which oversees $734 billion, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. ``We think caution is called for.'' The S&P 500 has lost 1.1 percent this week and is down 9.1 percent in 2008 after a worse-than-forecast manufacturing report yesterday added to evidence that the economy is falling into a recession. The world's largest banks and securities firms have reported about $160 billion of credit losses and asset writedowns since the beginning of 2007 as the collapse in subprime mortgages spreads across debt markets.

Weekly Declines

Financial shares in the S&P 500 lost 1.2 percent today, bringing their decline over the past year to 30 percent, the worst performance among 10 industries. The 92-member S&P 500 Financials Index is still 3.5 percent above its four-year low on Jan. 18, buoyed by the Federal Reserve's fastest easing of monetary policy since 1990. Goldman, the biggest U.S. securities firm by market value, dropped $1.11 to $174.06. Lehman Brothers fell 95 cents to $53.19. Hintz said slumping credit markets, combined with weak revenue from underwriting and advisory fees, will hurt profits this quarter. Fannie Mae declined $1.24 to $27.75 today. Freddie Mac fell $2.24 to $25.51. Bruce downgraded the shares to ``sell'' from ``neutral.''

`More Pain'

``We do not think the stocks fully reflect the severity or duration of the financial headwinds facing the companies,'' he wrote in a research note to clients dated today. There is ``more pain than gain.'' Intuit Inc. lost $3.60 to $26.19. The world's largest maker of tax-preparation software lowered its third-quarter profit forecast to between $1.31 and $1.34 a share. Analysts predicted profit of $1.37, according to the average in a Bloomberg survey. Express Scripts Inc. gained $1.95 to $66.71. The third- largest U.S. manager of drug benefits raised its 2008 earnings forecast and reported profit that beat analysts' estimates as clients used a higher proportion of cheaper generic medicines. Eli Lilly & Co. added 38 cents to $50.20. The drugmaker said its experimental blood-thinning drug prasugrel will get a priority review by U.S. regulators. With no major economic reports due today, investors will look to next week for further clues on the economy. A report on Feb. 25 will probably show existing home sales declined in January, while a release on Feb. 27 is likely to show a drop in durable goods orders for the same month, according to economists' estimates compiled by Bloomberg News.