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Reports, Fed weigh down trading

NEW YORK – Wall Street retreated Tuesday after aluminum producer Alcoa Inc. and chip maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc. issued disappointing reports and the Federal Reserve voiced concerns about the slumping economy.

Stocks were already lower on worries about weak first-quarter earnings when the minutes from the Fed’s March 18 meeting were released. The minutes showed that some central bank officials, who forecast that the economy would contract during the first half, were concerned about the possibility of a “prolonged and severe” business downturn.

The minutes also indicated that Fed officials were conflicted over how much more interest rates could be reduced at the expense of higher inflation. The combination of a slow economy but not much more room for interest rate cuts at first rattled investors and sent the Dow Jones industrials to a loss of 86 points, although the blue chips regained some ground in the final hour of trading.

The market’s overall steadiness indicated to analysts that investors are more level-headed than they were just a few weeks ago, when the global banking system was in crisis mode and Bear Stearns Cos. was forced to accept a buyout from JPMorgan Chase & Co.

But corporate reports at the start of first-quarter earnings season were nonetheless troubling. Given a 54 percent drop in Alcoa’s first-quarter profit, a 15 percent drop in AMD’s first-quarter sales and a lowered profit outlook at rival chip maker Novellus Systems Inc., it appeared to some on Wall Street that they might have to pare back their profit estimates for this year.

“While investors had a pretty much washed-out, pessimistic view of the economy, those investors also had an unrealistic view on earnings … It seems investors are conflicted between their pessimism on the economy and their optimism on earnings,” said Jack A. Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank. “The good news is, we’ve moved away from emotional, jittery trading to a reconciliation of values. The market is substantially more rational than it was.”

The Dow fell 35.99, or 0.29 percent, to 12,576.44.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 1.49 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 slid 0.41 percent, Germany’s DAX index lost 0.72 percent, and France’s CAC-40 dropped 0.65 percent.


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