By Kristina Peterson
U.S. stocks slipped in late trading Monday as jitters ahead of U.S. midterm elections and expected moves from the Federal Reserve prompted traders to duck out of a market whose long climb is now raising some eyebrows.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) shed 23 points, or 0.2%, to 11095 in recent trading, reversing an earlier triple-digit climb.
Financial stocks slid into the red after a ProPublica report said the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM) allowed Magnetar Capital, a hedge fund, to improperly select assets for a $1.1 billion deal backed by subprime mortgages. J.P. Morgan shed 1.1%, while other financials tumbled. First Horizon National (FHN) slid 6.6%, Marshall & Ilsley (MI@) fell 5% and BB&T (BBT) shed 3.3%.
Traders said the sector slipped after the ProPublica report began to circulate.
"The weakness seems to be attributed to this report on the SEC investigation," said Stephen Carl, head equity trader at The Williams Capital Group.
Still, traders' focus is largely locked on events later this week, including Tuesday's midterm elections and Wednesday's conclusion of a meeting of the Federal Reserve's policy-making committee. The stock market has rallied since early September on expectations that the Fed will resume purchasing bonds in order to stimulate the economy.
In afternoon trading, the market cooled its earlier climb, fueled by a round of better-than-expected economic reports. Traders said they wouldn't be surprised to see a selloff after the election and Fed meeting given the market's steady climb since September amid a surge of market optimism.
"I am concerned about the overhang of long to shorts in the market and the amount of bullish sentiment," said John Brady, senior vice president at MF Global. Given the week's major political and economic events, "you're probably seeing some guys taking some chips off the table," he said.
The market climbed earlier Monday, fueled by encouraging manufacturing reports from the U.S. and China, as well as an unexpected rise in U.S. construction spending.
"Generally with an election tomorrow you'd have almost nothing happening in the market today," said Jennifer Ellison, principal at Bingham, Osborn & Scarborough. "Regardless of who wins tomorrow or what the Fed does, if we don't have corporate earnings growth and don't have people going back to work, the market's not going to continue going up at the pace it has been," she said.
The Nasdaq Composite (RIXF) shed 0.5% to 2496. The S&P 500 edged down 0.3% to 1179. The S&P's utilities sector led its declines, weighed by a 2.8% drop in NextEra Energy. The company said it expects the year's profit will come in "the lower half" of its prior forecast. Dominion Resources (Virginia) shed 3.1%.
Among companies reporting earnings, Baker Hughes (BHI) climbed 3.7%. Its third-quarter earnings soared as the oilfield-services company benefited from a rebound in North America, a seasonal recovery in Canada and the April acquisition of BJ Services. Anadarko Petroleum (APC) rose 1.1% ahead of its earnings report after the market's close.
Ambac Financial Group (ABK) tumbled 42% after the bond insurer warned that its board declined to make an interest payment and said it is negotiating plans for a prepackaged bankruptcy proceeding with senior debtholders. If it can't reach an agreement for such a plan, it plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection by the end of the year.
EXCO Resources (XCO) jumped 30% after Chairman and Chief Executive Douglas Miller offered to buy the company, valuing it at about $4.4 billion. The company's board said it intends to establish a special committee of independent directors to consider the proposal.
Wilmington Trust (WL) sank 42% after it announced a merger with M&T Bank for a stock deal valued at about $351 million. The Delaware banker also reported its third-quarter loss widened sharply as its loan-loss provisions soared and as its mounting losses required it to establish a "significant" tax-valuation allowance. Shares of M&T Bank (MTB) gained 4.4%.
Fortinet (FTNT) surged 6.3% after Bloomberg News reported late Friday that International Business Machines has approached the network-security systems maker about a possible takeover.
Trucking company YRC Worldwide (YRCW) rose 15% after members of the Teamsters union voted in favor of ratifying the continuation of concessions wage and pension reductions, along with new work rules that J.P. Morgan Chase says gives YRC additional flexibility.
The U.S. dollar (DXY) strengthened against both the euro and the yen. The euro was recently trading at $1.3874, down from $1.3947 late Friday in New York.
Demand for Treasurys slipped, pushing the 10-year note's yield (UST10Y) up to 2.62%. Crude-oil prices slipped below $83 a barrel, while gold futures also declined.