Oil Prices Drive Stocks to Bear Market

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

U.S. stocks fell last week, giving the Dow Jones industrial average a 20 percent bear-market drop from October's all-time high as record oil prices threatened global economic growth.

The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index lost 1.3 percent to 1262.90 for a fifth-straight weekly retreat. The index dropped to 1261.52 on July 2, down 19.4 percent from Oct. 9 to its lowest since July 2006. The Dow slipped 0.5 percent to 11,288.54. The MSCI World Index of 23 developed markets has fallen 18.4 percent from its October peak.

"The biggest losers are names with international exposure," said Mark Freeman, a Dallas-based money manager at Westwood Holdings Group.

Monsanto and Nucor led raw-material producers in the S&P 500 to their steepest drop since January. General Motors tumbled to its lowest level since 1954 after Merrill Lynch said the largest U.S. automaker might face bankruptcy. Lehman Brothers slumped to an eight-year low on speculation that credit losses would force it to merge with a bigger securities firm.

This is the Dow's 12th bear market since 1962 and first since 2002, according to research firm Birinyi Associates. Prior declines averaged 29 percent and lasted 322 days, Birinyi data show. The biggest decline was a 45 percent drop over 694 days starting in January 1973.

Caterpillar contributed most to the Dow's weekly drop, followed by Boeing and Alcoa. Before U.S. stocks started falling on May 19, Alcoa had the top gain in the Dow for 2008. Caterpillar was fourth.

Alcoa is scheduled to report second-quarter results Tuesday, becoming the first Dow company to do so. General Electric, also in the Dow, reports Friday.

Crude oil, which doubled in the past year, increased to a record $145.85 a barrel in New York on Wednesday. Its ascent complicates the Federal Reserve's efforts to keep the economy out of recession during bank losses stemming from the collapse of the subprime mortgage market, RBC Capital Markets strategist Myles Zyblock said in a report last week.

Yields on Treasurys fell as traders pared bets that the Fed will raise interest rates after lowering them seven times since September. The two-year note's yield declined to 2.53 percent from 2.63 percent on June 27.

-- Bloomberg News


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