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Trader C. Philip O'Rourke, foreground, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday in New York. Stocks and interest rates tumbled as investors around the world took a bleaker view of the U.S. economy.  (Associated Press)
Trader C. Philip O'Rourke, foreground, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday in New York. Stocks and interest rates tumbled as investors around the world took a bleaker view of the U.S. economy. (Associated Press)

Stocks drop on trade deficit report

NEW YORK – U.S. stocks were clobbered Wednesday, with the Dow industrials tallying their biggest single-day retreat since June 29, as the Federal Reserve’s stimulus plan intensified worries about the economic recovery.

“Unfortunately what the Fed was able to do yesterday was confirm our fears that we’re in an economic soft patch, and that they’re going to continue with monetary policy that we had in the past,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Jefferies & Co.

Bringing it back into the loss column for the year, the Dow Jones industrial average declined 265.42 points, or 2.5 percent, to 10,378.83.

Alcoa Inc. led the blue-chip decline that extended to all 30 of the Dow’s components, with shares of the aluminum manufacturer down 6.1 percent.

Data on the domestic front and from overseas did not help bolster sentiment in a market that has for weeks veered between downbeat economic reports and positive corporate results.

On Wednesday, that trend continued.

Entertainment giant Walt Disney Co. beat top and bottom-line expectations in its third-quarter report, and retailer Macy’s Inc. reported second-quarter earnings that topped estimates while raising its 2010 outlook.

Conversely, the market also took in reports showing a widening U.S. trade deficit that signaled the country’s economy grew less than thought in the second quarter, while China reported a slowdown in factory production.

The S&P 500 index shed 31.59 points, or 2.8 percent, to 1,089.47, its first fall below 1,100 this month. Industrials weighed the most among the S&P’s 10 industry groups, with Rockwell Automation Inc. and Textron Inc. among the hardest hit, the former off 7.1 percent and the latter 5.7 percent.

“We are still in a correction mode,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at Standard & Poor’s Equity Research.

The market fell 16 percent from April 23 until July 2 but has not gone back to the pre-correction level of 1,217 on the S&P 500 seen on April 23, Stovall noted.

“So, we will remain in correction mode until we go into bear-market mode or until we go back to a recovery high,” he added.

Another observer said the seesawing trade has left Wall Street at a virtual standstill.

“When you look at the stock market this year, with all the gyrations and corrections, as of yesterday, we were pretty much flat on the year,” said Paul Simon, chief investment officer at Tactical Allocation Group.

The Nasdaq Composite Index fell 68.54 points, or 3 percent, to 2,208.63.

For every share gaining, six fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where nearly 1.2 billion shares were exchanged. Composite volume topped 4.7 billion.

Crude-oil futures fell to end at $78.02 a barrel, while gold futures closed just below $1,200 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The U.S. dollar gained against the euro and most currency rivals.

“The stronger dollar has weighed, as has general risk aversion in the aftermath of the Fed’s unexpected policy shift on Tuesday,” wrote analysts at Action Economics.

Ahead of Wall Street’s opening, the government said the U.S. trade deficit widened 19 percent in June to $49.9 billion, more than analysts expected.

U.S. economic growth from April through June was probably softer than first estimated, with gross domestic product likely to be revised down to 1.3 percent, from 2.4 percent, in the wake of the trade deficit report, according to a MarketWatch survey.

The bigger-than-anticipated trade gap suggests second-quarter GDP “is indeed likely to be revised down closer to 1 percent or 1.5 percent,” wrote Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co., in a research note.

The Fed on Tuesday afternoon said it would purchase long-term Treasury bonds in an effort to trim borrowing costs, with the central bank’s stimulus plan seen as an indication the recovery is in worse shape than some thought.

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