Stocks give up sharp gains on Fed plan

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NEW YORK -- Wall Street finished only slightly higher in an erratic session on Wednesday as investors remained unconvinced by a Federal Reserve plan to work with other central banks to alleviate the global credit crisis.

Investors erased a 272-point gain in the Dow Jones industrial average that followed the Fed's announcement of an agreement with the European Central Bank and the central banks of England, Canada and Switzerland to confront what it called elevated pressures in the credit markets. The Fed said it will create a temporary auction facility to make funds available to banks and set up lines of credit with the European and Swiss central banks for additional resources.

This move is the biggest concerted liquidity injection since the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks and helped boost investor sentiment a day after the Fed disappointed Wall Street with a quarter-point cut in interest rates. Many investors had hoped for a half-point reduction to help the economy weather the credit and mortgage crises.

But the Fed's latest salvo didn't appear to assuage all of Wall Street's concerns about the spike in bad debt that has caused the credit markets to tighten in recent months, nor did it sew up all of investors' concerns about the nation's economic health.

"There's still no certainty that we're out of the woods ... there's still a risk for recession," said Steven Goldman, chief market strategist at Weeden & Co. "We did get very positive news from the Fed and other banks chipping in to add liquidity into the system. But, the environment hasn't fundamentally changed that the worst is over for the financial system."

He pointed out that the biggest beneficiaries during a period of rate cuts are bank and brokerage stocks. However, the sector was under pressure Wednesday as investors worried the institutions will take further writedowns after warnings from Bank of America Corp., Wachovia Corp. and PNC Financial Services Group Inc.

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow rose 41.13, or 0.31%, to 13,473.90. The blue-chip index had risen as much as 271.75 in early trading; and was down by as much as 111 points.

Broader stock indicators were also higher. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 8.94, or 0.61%, to 1,486.59. The Nasdaq composite index rose 18.79, or 0.71%, to 2,671.14.

Tuesday's stock plunge of 294 points had interrupted Wall Street's attempt at an end-of-the-year rally, but Wednesday's performance brought the possibility of a market recovery back to the table. The Dow is up more than 6% since falling as low as 12,724.09 on Nov. 26.

But analysts were still enthusiastic about the Fed's action on Wednesday.

"I think it's certainly a strong measure to ease this credit crunch, and I think it will encourage banks to use the discounted borrowing. If banks won't lend to each other, then at least the central banks will lend to them," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago.

The plan sent Treasury prices falling, because the prospect of more available credit lessened investors' need for the safe haven that government securities provide. The 10-year Treasury note's yield, which moves opposite the price, rose to 4.08% from 3.97% late Tuesday.

The dollar was mixed against other major currencies. Gold prices rose.

Investors also digested economic data. The Commerce Department said the U.S. trade deficit rose in October to the loftiest level in three months, driven by record-high oil prices and an influx of Chinese imports. It also reported that November import prices surged.

If inflation accelerates, it could keep the Fed from lowering rates again.

Energy prices soared after the government reported surprising declines in U.S. stockpiles of crude oil, and surged even further after reports of a fire at an ExxonMobil Corp. refinery in Texas. A barrel of light sweet crude jumped $4.37 to $94.39 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

ExxonMobil shares rose $1.64 to $91.92.

In other corporate news, Wachovia doubled its estimate of loan loss provisions to about $1 billion for the fourth quarter, while BofA pointed to higher writedowns and said he expects current credit market turbulence to extend into 2008. PNC said the money it will set aside to cover bad loans for the last three months of the year will be more than twice as large as in the third quarter.

Shares of Wachovia fell $3.38 to $40.53, while Bank of America dropped $1.22, or 2.7%, to $43.43. PNC fell $3.55, or 2.5%, to $68.24.

SLM Corp., the student loan company known as Sallie Mae, slashed its 2008 earnings due to the costs of replacing an interim funding facility. The company also disclosed it failed to renegotiate a buyout with an investor group that balked several months ago at its original $25 billion cash offer.

SLM shares fell $3.45, or 10.8%, to $28.49.

But AT&T Inc. climbed for the second-straight session after the telecom carrier issued solid guidance and lifted its dividend. AT&T was the biggest gainer among the 30 Dow companies, rising $2.25, or 5.7%, to $41.71.

The Russell 2000 index rose 5.44, or 0.71%, to 771.71.

Advancing issues led decliners by a 4 to 3 basis on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume came to 1.59 billion shares.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average closed down 0.70%, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed down 2.41%. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.35%, Germany's DAX index added 0.83%, and France's CAC-40 advanced 0.32%.
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