Dow falls 66 after Fed leaves rates alone

The central bank sees some economic improvement but worries about weak job markets and Europe. Oil tops $100 on Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz. Best Buy shares sag on weak results.

By Charley Blaine Dec 13, 2011 1:38PM
Charley BlaineUpdated: 11:50 p.m. ET

The Federal Reserve left its key interest rates alone today, saying risks to a moderately expanding economy and jobs market remain quite strong.

At the same time, the Fed said its decision also reflected a worry that economic events globally -- which basically means Europe -- could threaten the domestic economy.

The decision was expected. But what had been a strong rebound from Monday's drubbing fell apart, and the market slumped in the last half-hour of trading. One reason: Many traders had hoped the Fed would announce a new round of so-called quantitative easing -- purchases of government securities to help boost the economy and perhaps insulate it from the problems across the Atlantic Ocean.

The market had opened strongly and withstood two challenges: crude oil (-CL) topping $100 a barrel because of worries about a possible blockage of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, and reports Germany would oppose boosting the size of a new bailout fund beyond 500 billion euros. The euro fell to levels last seen in January.

The Dow closed down 66 points to 11,955; the blue-chip index had risen 126 points in the morning and was up 107 points at 2 p.m. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index($INX) finished down 11 points to 1,226. The Nasdaq Composite Index ($COMPX) was off 33 points to 2,579. The Nasdaq-100 Index ($NDX), which tracks the largest Nasdaq stocks, was down 24 points to 2,268.

Article continues below.
Today's gyrations were a continuation of the accelerated volatility of the last few days. The Dow fell 163 points on Monday. It had gained 187 points on Friday and lost 199 points on Thursday. 

But the selling also suggests that investor confidence is not strong, especially given the continuing uncertainty -- some would call it chaos -- in Europe. The S&P 500 pushed up to 1,249 and promptly sold off. The Dow hit similar resistance at 12,200.

Nonetheless, futures trading suggests that U.S. stocks will open. That assumes investors aren't put off by a rising dollar.

Economy is 'expanding moderately'
The Fed said the economy continued to strengthen since its last meeting on Nov. 2. In fact, it said the economy has been "expanding moderately" for the first time in months.

Household spending has improved a little. Business investment in plants and software improved. Inflation is moderating.

But the central bank fretted that the labor market nationally is still weak, even if the national unemployment has fallen below 9%. "The unemployment rate will decline only gradually" to levels the central bank deems appropriate -- probably around 5%.   Investment in non-residential building is weak, and residential real estate is still weak.

The Fed said strains in global financial markets "continue to pose significant downside risks to the economic outlook."

The 10-year Treasury yield fell to 1.962% from 2.009% on Monday.

The Fed repeated its statement that low rates will be the norm until at least mid-2013. The Fed's current short-term interest rate target, the federal funds rate, is 0% to 0.25%. The fed funds rate is what banks charge each other for overnight loans. The target has been in place since December 2008 as financial regulators around the world were struggling to contain the 2008 market crash.

The Fed's discount rate -- what it charges member institutions for short-term loans -- has been at 0.75% since February 2010.

The Fed may be a bit gun-shy about trying new plans to stimulate the economy. There's disagreement within the system about whether its efforts have done much, and Republicans have been trashing the Fed about its efforts as well.

But it will continue its program of selling short-term Treasury securities and buying long-term notes. It is also reinvesting principal repayments of agency debt into new securities.

Crude oil flirts with $100; gold drops
Crude oil settled up $2.37 a barrel to $100.14 a barrel on the worries about the Strait of Hormuz. Brent crude was up $2.46 to $109.47 a barrel.

Gold (-GC), meanwhile, settled down $5.10 to $1,663.10 an ounce. Silver (-SI) was up 25.8 cents to $31.26 an ounce. Copper (-HG) settled down 2.25 cents to $3.4415 a pound.

Iran has been making noises about closing the waterway, vowing to push oil prices to $200 a barrel or more. The question is whether it would risk its major economic growth engine.

Crude's gains pushed energy shares higher, although shares finished well off their highs.  Exxon Mobil (XOM) was up  48 cents to $80.53 after reaching $81.81 Chevron (CVX) hit $105.89 but fell back to $103.62, up 55 cents. The Energy Select Sector SPDR (XLE) exchange-traded fund closed up 68 cents to $67.86. The ETF had been as high as $69.97.

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Europe causes stress for markets
The report on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's opposition to boost the size of the European bailout fund raised fears that nations like Italy, Spain and Greece could default, causing financial repercussions across the continent.

The euro dropped 1.4% to $1.318. At the end of April, the euro had reached $1.48.

The worries increased late today when Reuters reported that Greece's deficit widened in the first 11 months of the year, putting budget targets further out of reach. Meanwhile, building activity plunged by more than a third since the start of 2011.

Europe has been caught up in enormous verbal turmoil since Britain said last week it would not agree to a plan to tie the fiscal policies of European Union members together. The move has widely been seen as defensive. Prime Minister David Cameron wants to protect London's primacy as the financial capital of Europe.

At the same time, the plan supported by Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy focuses on austerity and offers little in the way of helping eurozone countries grow. "Setting austerity in stone is not going to help Greece with its unpayable debts or Italy with its chronic competitiveness problem," wrote Larry Elliott in The Guardian newspaper in London. "On the contrary, it is going to make matters worse."

"Europe is going into recession and the ripple effect on global growth next year is the story," Miller Tabak's Peter Boockvar wrote clients today. "The only way we avoid it is if we get the Fed announcing quantitative easing and the ECB printing money in the next couple of weeks."

Retail sales disappoint
Given all the excitement about Black Friday sales, the government's report of November retail sales did not impress.

Sales grew 0.2% from October, the slowest pace since June. But there was a sales gain, the 17th in a row.

Even when auto sales were excluded, sales were up 0.2%.

Clothing, general merchandise and department stores made a comeback in November after falling into negative territory in October. But Chris Christopher, IHS Global Insight's senior principal economist, noted anecdotal evidence that many shoppers stopped their buying ahead of Black Friday to take advantage of all the deals.

NTSB: Ban cellphone use in motor vehicles
States should ban all driver use of cellphones and other portable electronic devices, except in emergencies, the National Transportation Board said today.

The recommendation, unanimously agreed to by the five-member board, applies to both hands-free and hand-held phones and significantly exceeds any existing state laws restricting texting and cellphone use behind the wheel.

The board made the recommendation in connection with a deadly highway pileup in Missouri last year. The board said the initial collision in the accident near Gray Summit, Mo., was caused by the inattention of a 19-year-old-pickup driver who sent or received 11 texts in the 11 minutes immediately before the crash.

Plantronics (PLT), which makes headsets, fell 46 cents to $34.77.

Boeing up on Southwest Air purchase
Boeing (BA) shares should have seen a gain today. They didn't, finishing unchanged at $70.90. after Southwest Airlines (LUV) ordered 150 737 MAX planes, a new-engine variant of the carrier's workhorse single-aisle 737s. The new plane should be at least 10% more fuel efficient than current models.

Southwest also ordered 58 additional 737-700s and 737-800s, with the total order approaching $19 billion at list prices. Southwest shares were down 27 cents to $8.16. That may have more to do with oil prices.

The order is the largest in Boeing's history in terms of dollar value at list price and the number of aircraft, the company said. Airlines that place large orders typically receive steep discounts, perhaps as much as 50%.

Southwest's MAX order had been expected. But the airline surprised some observers by announcing a firm order instead of options or an agreement to take reservations on Boeing's assembly line.

Is Verizon really interested in Netflix?
Netflix shares faded to $72.11, down $3.15, after many analysts brushed off speculation from media analyst Porter Bibb that Verizon wants to buy Netflix. Bibb's comments Monday on Bloomberg Television helped push the shares higher.

CNBC's David Faber said today that Verizon officials were denying any interest.

Netflix shares are off 75% from their mid-July peaks because of the company's decision to try to split its offerings -- mail-order video disc rentals and video streaming -- into two operations with separate fee structures.

Best Buy shares drubbed; Urban Outfitters rises
Best Buy (BBY) shares slumped $4.34 to $23.73. The electronics retailer reported fiscal third-quarter earnings of 47 cents a share, falling short of the 51 cents analysts had expected.

Revenue was $12.1 billion, less than the $12.14 billion forecast. Sales at stores open at least a year rose almost 1%. The issue in the report was that heavy promotion expenses and discounts for Black Friday sales cut into profit margins.

Shares are off nearly 30% this year.

The Best Buy report also hit shares of Radio Shack (RSH), hhgregg (HGG) and Aarons (AAN).

Shares of Urban Outfitters (URBN) jumped $1.41 to $27.87 after the apparel retailer said in a regulatory filing that its same-store sales were rising at a percentage in the "mid-single digits" so far in the fourth quarter. That was better than expected.

AT&T (T) is considering ways to restructure its proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA after a judge set a Jan. 18 hearing about the future of the merger. The Justice Department opposes a deal that brings together the No. 2 and No. 4 wireless companies in the U.S. because of antitrust concerns. AT&T was up 3 cents to $29.04. Sprint Nextel (S), which would benefit if the AT&T-TMobile combine collapses, was up 2 cents to $2.39.

Endocyte (ECYT) slumped $6.72 to $3.57, the most in the Russell 2000 Index. The biopharmaceutical company said a clinical study of its ovarian cancer treatment was "inconclusive" on its overall survival advantage.

Green Mountain Coffee shares (GMCR) were off $6.54 to $49.95 today, giving back a large chunk of its post-crash gains. The culprit may be Symphony/IRI data claiming the market share and average selling price of Green Mountain's K-Cups fell in November.

Short hits from the markets -- New York close



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Dec 13, 2011 5:58PM

And they wonder why the economy doesn't improve.  Seniors (I am one) are getting literally no income from their investments (whether it is from CDs or stock) so there is less and less disposable income.  A further complication was the fact that there were no increases to Social Security benefits for the last two years.......they probably didn't have the b**ls to freeze it for a third disposable income no spending to stimulate the economy.  Interesting that the pols got their COLA isn't it?  The excuse was "it's written into the law".  I may be stupid but will someone please explain logically and sensible how the banks get away with interest of less than 1% all the while the credit cards (including banks) can get away with charging in excess of 13 -  20+%?

We gave them bailout money and they saved their asses but even tho they repaid most of the money they still sit on a ton of cash and do not not create jobs...............g​ive themselves​d basically spit in the face of the very people who saved them from drowning.  I would never have given them a penny and those who could make it would have made it while those who could not make it would have gone under.    "Gotta have a banking industy" was all I heard over and over again but if what's parading out there now isa banking industry we would have been better off without them.  They are screwing us and we just bend over and tell them not to stop because it feels so good.  Who's the dummy here?  Is there anything wrong with this picture?

Dec 13, 2011 2:49PM

Wall Street: - No Bulls, No Bears, only Pigs...

the Largest Casino since 1914??? Wonder who's playing?

  • If you can name all the Kardashians, you do not live in the real world...
  • Obama just tuned off the light at the end of the tunnel by supporting OWS
  • I thought when you get bailed out it's from the Jail...what's going on?
  • Tear down this Wall "street"...

Solution: Occupy Congress and Senate with better Representatives.

Dec 13, 2011 6:24PM
I just love stupidity it makes me feel so good. Lets put more electric cars on the road, hum, lets see it takes electricity to charge them, electricity is made from coal fired generators or nuclear plants, my electric bill goes out of site recharging my electric car all of the time so I can drive 50 miles every day, can't use it on a trip very far, so I guess I will buy a gas car too for that. Now who is going to pay the highway taxes to fix our roadways since every one is driving electric cars? I know lets start charging every one a toll fee to drive on the roads that will take care of that problem. But since my electric bill is so high now I can't afford the toll road fees. My secondary gas car, the price of gas is now out of sight so I can't afford to drive that on those long trips now all in the name of going green. Oh, now that we are using so much electricity to charge our electric cars, the power grids can't handle the extra electrical loads so now we are having brown outs, can't cook supper. What a brilliant idea, electric cars.
Dec 13, 2011 5:34PM

Max sparticas,


"Deland-Why build a pipe line all the way to the Gulf CoastSarcasticBecause Oil companies want to export the oil to Europe to fetch a higher price. Why not build refineries in North Dakota and save our environment from potential disaster and keep the price down here."


Max, this is worth repeating over and over. It's such a smart and common sense idea idea that you wonder if the congress has any at all  I also believe that refineries should be built in North Dakota, protecting the enviroment and located close to the center of all the states. It's like in the old game of "war" where you build up your refineries, factories, equipment and troops to defend yourself against invasion.


As voting for president and governing bodies comes closer in the US we should ask those questions.



Dec 13, 2011 2:58PM
JOBS, JOBS, JOBS .. until Congress makes the definitive fiscal policy move to address the high unemployment problem, America will continue to languish on the brink of another Great Depression.
Dec 13, 2011 3:16PM
Seems like we are more concerned about Germany then our own country...pretty sad
Dec 13, 2011 5:30PM

"Many traders had hoped the Fed would announce a new round of so-called quantitative easing -- purchases of government securities to help boost the economy."


I don't know about the rest of you but the disturbing misleading quote above could not be a bigger lie thrown to the public...


Quantitative Easing ONLY helps banks...IT DOES NOT FIX THE ECONOMY!!!!

Dec 13, 2011 3:11PM
Turn loose some of the U.S. oil reserves and let OPEC drink it for awhile and they will bring it down. Their greed won't let them not sell it for very long!And the speculators and the hedge crooks can lose it all , I hope.
Dec 13, 2011 4:28PM
What a mess! Major concerns are raised from this article about the movements of crude, gold and the assessment of lower than projected sales from box stores, such as Best Buy. Taking into consideration the turmoil outside of our boarders the Global economy may come unwound by the second quarter of next year. In the meantime our Fed holds firm on QE3, and rightfully so, keeping interest rates low for our Banksters to bounce back and forth, while stashing tons of capitol or playing profits in the speculative markets. The U.S.A. has at its disposal a secret economic weapon but special interests, foreign interests and trade arrangements make it difficult for this weapon to be used. Iran knows our D.C. leadership on both sides of the isle doesn't have the spine or the brass balls to unleash the economic voltage held in check by said special interests agendas. When a country like Iran can ultimately spike energy prices to create havoc on the Global economy many Nations involved with the U.N. should take immediate notice! This proves our dependency on foreign oil is a weakness and its devastating consequences on our economy can no longer guide this country. Let the BOOM of our own Natural Resources remove this tight grip foreign oil markets have on our future prosperity!
Dec 13, 2011 5:23PM
Might as well talk about battery cars after yet another washout.  I have run out of new headlines.  Maybe tomorrow lets try this one "Market Sell-off on Iran's threat to close the strait". Sounds better than Euro Worries.  Regarding electric cars.  My friend just bought a Nissan Leaf, I drove it and actually liked the performance.  The issue, however, is usable range.  His wife drives 62 mile round trip to work.  The remaining power in the battery indicates anywhere from 13 to 24 miles.  It is now in the 20's in the mornings and both heater and headlights are required.  Well bingo, not enough range with the heater and lights on.  She has resorted to pre-heating the car and bundling up for her morning commute.  In the summer when the temperatures are in the 80's and 90's, I suppose she will have to resort to driving naked.  Has anybody determined the service life of the battery pack and the replacement cost?  Factor that into the 35k price tag and I would imagine the payback to be around 20 years.
Lets put more electric cars on the road, hum, lets see it takes electricity to charge them, electricity is made from coal fired generators or nuclear plants, my electric bill goes out of site recharging my electric car all of the time 
a Tesla Roadster 40 miles (64 km) a day would use 11.2 kW·h of electricity 

lets do the math about 200,000,000 electrical cars on the road instead of gas. This means we will need 11.2 kW-hours times 200,000,000 times 365 days a year  = 817,000,000,000,000 

the US produces about 3,992,000,000,000,00​0 a year so we will have to add about 1/4 more electrical power to our already stressed out power grid. So to put in enough to handle the load and get us back into a safe mode from black outs we probably should add about 1/3 more power plants. 

Hmmm nuclear is the only way to go else all those fossil fuel new plants will increase our green house gases by 1/3 and all those cars will probably increase ozone by a factor of say 1,000 to 10,000 from levels we see today. 

Yep it's going to be very expensive to go green and then we will all die from ozone poisoning.

Dec 13, 2011 4:13PM
OIL going up,    lets start building the pipe line from Canada ,     never mine Obama said NO to that
Dec 13, 2011 4:02PM
no one has a jobs program of merit so the economy continues to flounder.


SteveG1956, this statement is a sad truth. I would state it a little differently. The good ship USS Economy is without main engines (its manufacturing and housing base). God has blessed it with the good fortune to have the wind at her back and enough rope to allow a few motorized life boats towing capacity so long as her luck holds out. Out of shear dogged determination she inches forward while the public address system pipes out happy music from better days and the propaganda message that all is well. Power will be restored soon. A tough sale considering the engineers of this catastrophe are feverously working on there own personal life boats and are not even in the engine room.


The captain (president) is at the helm asking the engineers (congress & industry)  for status reports for when we will have main engines on line again. Unfortunately, the engineers continue to work on the air conditioners on their own personal life boats in tow. After all, their own personal comfort will be of the utmost importance when the abandon ship order eventually comes.


Meanwhile in the Washington Lounge (the separated first class lounge) the New Owners negotiate salvage rights with the engineers in what can best be described as a national bankruptcy liquidation. At the next table, the Super Superior Citizens (Supreme Court) are scheduling for June the final breach of her once gleaming hull (The Constitution). Once they suspend habeas corpus for non citizens within US borders making the right into a privilege, it will be but a short step to taking it away from the rest of us and the wet dream of the pat riot act will become reality.


How about we commission the life boats from the engineers for towing duties, throw the engineer overboard (in 2012), and let the mechanics in the second class section turn the engines back on so we can get back under way?


It is absolutely disgusting to watch the engineers of this crisis fight over band aids and suntan lotion when the patient is bleeding to death. Heave ho and over board they all go. Let the sharks sort them out.


Merry Christmas everyone.

Dec 13, 2011 6:46PM

Thirty large American corporations spent more money on lobbying than they did in federal taxes  from 2008 to 2010, according to a report from the nonpartisan reform group Public Campaign.

All of the companies were profitable at the time. In spite of this, and the massive federal budget deficit, 29 out of the 30 companies featured in the study managed through various legal tax-dodging measures to pay no federal income taxes at all from 2008 through 2010. The lone exception, FedEx, paid a three-year tax rate of 1%, nowhere near the 35% called for by the federal tax code.

In fact, the report explains, the 29 companies that paid no tax actually received tax rebates over those three years, "ranging from $4 million for Corning to nearly $5 billion for General Electric " The total value of the rebates received was nearly $11 billion; combined profits during the same period were $164 billion


The above is just another example with what is wrong with our financial system and how corrupt it really is. Yet our Prez seeks business counsel from Jeff Immelt the CEO of GE and yet GE pays no federal taxes and actually gets a rebate back!!...what a joke. Eliminate all lobbyist and see how the landscape changes because the money that lobbyist pay out is just another form of "graft money" and "payoffs" for future business "favors".

Dec 13, 2011 2:58PM

Oil speculators at it again, let em drink it!!!

Hope they lose their donkeys!

Dec 13, 2011 5:03PM
Nothing will really change until our elected leaders in the Congress and the Presidency stop being compensated beyond rational reason in the way of pensions for the rest of their lives.  A $178,000 a year pension for a one term congressman?  A $400,000 a year pension for President?  What is the rationale for that?  Ultimately it is WE, The PEOPLE, who hold the cards and the power.  As it looks right now this gives me another reason just to sit out next year's elections.  How often do we have to listen to the argument that compensation follows merit and performance, when our very leaders who preach all this don't live up to it themselves?  Yes, I believe in a reasonable pension system for these folks, but not on OUR coin.  Let it be through personal investment like the rest of us pursue.
Dec 13, 2011 3:15PM
There is no plan for bailing out the European debit issue nor is there a plan for the stop listening to the propaganda being put forth by the so called "experts" as they don't have a clue as to solving the issues..
Dec 13, 2011 4:47PM
ComputerDeland-Why build a pipe line all the way to the Gulf CoastSarcasticBecause Oil companies want to export the oil to Europe to fetch a higher price. Why not build refineries in North Dakota and save our environment from potential disaster and keep the price down here.Auto
Dec 13, 2011 4:13PM

"Best Buy (BBY-14.75%) had high hopes for this holiday shopping season. Black Friday sales numbers hinted that Best Buy was a winner, going big on discounts and exclusive in-store deals after a rather lackluster showing last year."


DUH...only someone who doesn't understand business couldn't see this coming.  But wait...didn't all the financial "experts" tout what a great Black Friday sales weekend we had and how everything was tracking for a record year.  Guess what's all bullsh*t once again propped up by misleading information to make it seem things are better than they really are.  The story on Best Buy can also be said for other retailers who had to slash prices to capture sales (revenue) but in the process took a big hit to the bottom line (profit).  It really does not good for any business to worry about the top line if they are unprofitable or their margin is below the acceptable level against their annual operating plan.  So don't believe all the Hype that our recovery is underway as evidenced by the "robust" Black Friday sales as the truth is...... it will be a very soft holiday season and when the goods don't get sold in December there will be huge markdowns in Jan to clear it out further reducing the profitability.

Dec 13, 2011 3:48PM
Special news update: Queen farts after breakfast - market down on fears of possible high winds.....
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