Stocks trim losses

Wall Street wobbles at start of quarter. Auto bankruptcy worries grow and oil prices fall.

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Should Obama let GM and Chrysler go bankrupt?
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NEW YORK ( -- Stocks turned mixed Wednesday morning, cutting bigger morning losses as investors made a tentative start to the new quarter on a slew of economic reports and more talk about automaker bankruptcy.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) added a few points around an hour into the session. The S&P 500 (SPX) index was little changed. The Nasdaq composite (COMP) gave up 4 points, or 0.3%.

Wall Street posted gains in March at the end of the Dow's worst first quarter in 80 years. The blue-chip Dow rose 7.7% during the month and lost 13.3% in the quarter.

Peter Cardillo, chief market economist for Avalon Partners, said the best chance of a rally would stem from unexpectedly positive economic reports.

"While the G-20 meeting is in focus, I think the core of today's trading will be guided by today's data," said Cardillo. "I think any positive surprises in ISM manufacturing and home sales could drive the market a bit higher."

Autos: Worries of a bankruptcy at GM (GM, Fortune 500) and Chrysler are growing after the White House rejected their turnaround plans earlier this week.

A bankruptcy at GM or Chrysler would have widespread economic impact, hitting everyone from consumers to auto workers and taxpayers.

President Obama is giving GM 60 days to overhaul its plan, but new GM CEO Fritz Henderson said Tuesday the company might be in bankruptcy even quicker than that.

Economy: Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. reported that the barrage of layoffs in the U.S. economy might be slowing down. Challenger said Wednesday that job cut announcements totaled 150,411 in March, a decline of 19.3% from February's 186,350 cuts.

But the ADP employment report painted a much bleaker picture of the economy. The report said the U.S. economy lost 742,000 private non-farm jobs in March, a record loss.

This was worse than expected. A consensus of economists surveyed by had expected a decline of 663,000 private non-farm jobs in the month of March.

Other reports are due throughout the day.

The ISM index of manufacturing activity for March is expected to rise to 36 from 35.8, according to a consensus, still indicating a recessionary atmosphere.

Also due are pending home sales for February, expected to be unchanged from the prior month, and construction spending for February, expected to drop 1.9% after a 3.3% decline in January.

Later in the day, key reports on auto and truck sales for March are due from the major companies.

G-20: President Obama held individual meetings with leaders attending the G-20 summit in London, ahead of Thursday's full session. The world leaders were gathering to discuss ways to tackle the global financial crisis.

World markets: Global markets were mixed. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong fell, though Japan's Nikkei surged. But stocks in Europe tumbled in morning trading.

Oil and money: Oil prices fell $1.43 a barrel to $48.23 ahead of the government's inventory report due later in the day. The dollar slipped versus major international currencies, including the euro, the yen and the British pound.  To top of page

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