Stocks cut down by mortgage woes

Dow moves off lows, but remains firmly in the red after Wachovia, Fannie Mae are latest lenders caught in real estate mess.

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By Steve Hargreaves, staff writer


NEW YORK ( -- Stocks fell sharply Friday as mortgage woes riled Wall Street, adding to the steep losses of recent days.

The 30-share Dow Jones industrial average (Charts) lost about 0.8 percent and the broader S&P 500 index (Charts) each fell about .04 percent with roughly an hour left to trade.

The tech-fueled Nasdaq (Charts) slid 1.4 percent.

All three gauges had been lower in the morning, but recovered some ground after the Dow lost over 200 points and approached the 13,000 mark.

"There wasn't any real news" to move the Dow off its lows, said John Wilson, a managing director at the brokerage Morgan Keegan. "It was just beginning to get overdone."

Wachovia (Charts, Fortune 500), the nation's fourth-largest bank, said this morning the complex debt instruments it held in its portfolio declined in value by an estimated $1.1 billion before taxes in October, leading to a $600 million loan-loss charge for the current quarter. The bank had reported $1.3 billion in pre-tax losses in the third quarter tied to pools of debt backed by home loans.

Fannie Mae (Charts), the largest buyer and backer of home loans in the country, said Friday its profits fell by half over the last nine months.

The government-sponsored company said it earned $1.17 a share from January through September, down from $3.5 billion, or $3.16 a share, in the same period last year. Its shares fell over 6 percent.

Stocks have sold off as traders worried about the wider economic impact of losses at financial companies and the growing ranks of consumers saddled with expensive mortgages and high energy bills.

"The fear is spreading," said Joe Battipaglia, Chief Investment Officer at Ryan Beck & Co. "Investors think profits may have hit thier peak, not just in finacials but across other sectors of the economy."

The losses from Wachovia and Fannie come after Citigroup (Charts, Fortune 500) said last week it expects to write down a further $8 billion to $11 billion in the fourth quarter due to credit- and mortgage-related problems. Citigroup and warnings of more write downs from other banks caused the Dow to lose 362 points last week.

On Wednesday, the Dow posted one of its biggest single-day declines, falling 361 points on further credit market fears.

In recent months, banks and other financial institutions have taken big losses on mortgage-backed securities, which package individual home loans and sell them as an investments.

Those investments soured when people started defaulting on loans because of the decline in the real estate market, which ended their hopes of refinancing on the back of rising home values.

Adding to investor woes was a weak growth forecast from the 27-nation European Union, which said growth is expected to slow to 2.4 percent next year and in 2009, down from 2.9 percent this year. The EU attributed weaker growth to problems stemming from the subprime mess in the United States and the rise in oil prices.

The University of Michigan report on consumer sentiment came in well below estimates, but did little to move markets.

A bit of positive news: The U.S. trade deficit fell to the lowest level in 28 months as a falling dollar helped boost exports.

Among stocks in the news Friday, Merck (Charts, Fortune 500) announced it will pay $4.85 billion to resolve most of the the 27,000 claims involving its blockbuster pain medication Vioxx. Merck shares climbed nearly 4 percent.

Disney (Charts, Fortune 500) reported earnings that beat expectations on sales that were roughly in line with analysts' estimates.

Clearwire (Charts) and Sprint Nextel (Charts, Fortune 500) said they ended an earlier agreement to build a high-speed wireless network.

Meanwhile, oil prices resumed their assault on $100 a barrel. U.S. light crude for December delivery rose 86 cents to settle at $96.32 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The dollar fell against the euro but rose slightly against the yen. Treasury prices rose, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year note falling to 4.22 percent. Bond prices and yields move in opposite directions.

Major markets in Asia and Europe finished lower on mounting credit fears.

Market breadth was negative. Losers topped winners by 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange as 1.35 billion shares traded hands. Decliners beat advancers by 2 to 1 on volume of 2.32 billion shares.

COMEX gold lost $2.80 to settle at $834.70 an ounce. To top of page

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