Stocks edge lower after banks add liquidity


NEW YORK -- Wall Street gave up a moderate gain in late trading and closed marginally lower Monday after the Federal Reserve and other central banks added more cash to their banking systems, helping investors set aside some concerns about credit tightness.

The New York Fed, which carries out the central bank's market operation, minutes after the opening bell announced $2 billion in overnight repurchase agreements.

The Fed's "repo" follows a move by the Bank of Japan to put $5 billion into the markets and an addition by the European Central Bank of $65.3 billion; the ECB added more than $200 billion last week. The moves, following similar injections by the Fed last week, appeared to placate Wall Street for now and allowed it to focus on a week of fresh economic data. Since Thursday, the Fed has added $62 billion in liquidity.

Monday's injection, however, was smaller than normal, perhaps reassuring some investors that the central bank doesn't yet feel the need to pump more liquidity into the market. The last time the Fed repurchased as little as $2 billion in one day was on Wednesday, April 18. It made a one-day repo of $1.5 billion on May 10, but that was preceded by a separate one-day repo of $5.0 billion earlier that same day.

The central bank moves seem to be calming a market that has been torn by volatility for weeks. But Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist for Schaeffer's Investment Research, said trading on Monday was very tepid. In fact, Monday's decline was a sign that investors remain nervous -- that the markets gave up their gains wasn't surprising given how volatile trading has been.

"We got off to a good start in the morning, but people are still kind of on edge here and are unwilling to jump in and do a lot of buying," he said. "There's so much worry out there about the next shoe to drop."

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 3.01, or 0.02%, to 13,236.53.

Broader stock indicators also rose. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.72, or 0.05%, to 1,452.92, and the Nasdaq composite index retreated 2.65, or 0.10%, to 2,542.24.

After enduring sharp swings to the downside last week, the Dow and other major indexes ultimately finished the week with a modest gain. Last week's trading showed that the most predictable thing about the markets lately is high volatility.

"The environment we're in is really truly extraordinary. The best way for investors to view this is from a 30,000-foot view -- to be positioned defensively and to continue to pay close attention to the U.S. economy and the consumer," said J. Michael Barron, chief executive of Knott Capital in Exton, Pa.

Investors were in a somewhat better mood on Monday. However, Wall Street wasn't comfortable enough to hold positions overnight, and ultimately sold off positions just before the closing bell.

There continues to be a great deal of uncertainty in the market over the extent of problems in the subprime mortgage sector. Defaults among subprime mortgage holders -- borrowers with weak credit -- began the chain of events that led to the turmoil on Wall Street and other stock markets in recent weeks.

Those defaults recently led to the collapse of two Bear Stearns funds with risky mortgage-backed investments and last week prompted French bank BNP Paribas to freeze three funds with exposure to the U.S. subprime mortgage market.

Meanwhile, Barron contends that investors should look past the Fed's liquidity injections and to the housing market problems that underlie many investors' concerns about the availability of credit. He sees the fallout from an overheated housing market and an overextended consumer as just beginning to emerge.

"Even if the Fed does cut rates what stimulative effect does that have on the economy? The Fed can make money available but banks still have to lend it," Barron said.

He said banks likely will still be hesitant to make loans easily available only a few months ago.

But despite any lingering concerns about the health of the consumer, investors appeared pleased with the Commerce Department's report that retail sales edged up 0.3% in July, slightly ahead of market expectations. Wall Street has been closely monitoring consumer spending, as it accounts for two-thirds of the nation's total economic activity.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said Monday its funds using quantitative strategies, or computer modeling, "are currently under pressure" after global markets sold off on worries about debt and credit. The investment bank said it and certain large investors including Maurice "Hank" Greenberg and Eli Broad have committed to a $3 billion equity investment in its Global Equity Opportunities fund, which has "suffered significantly." The fund had a net asset value of about $3.6 billion before the equity investment. Goldman fell $3 to $177.50.

Struggling subprime lender Accredited Home Lenders Holding Co. said it has sued Lone Star Fund V LP and two affiliates to get the private equity firm to follow through with an agreed takeover. Lone Star said Friday in a regulatory filing that Accredited no longer met the conditions of its $400 million acquisition offer. Without a deal, Accredited has cautioned that it may face bankruptcy. The company fell $3.08 or 34.6%, to $5.82.

Bond were little changed, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note falling to 4.78% from 4.80% late Friday.

Overseas Monday, Japan's Nikkei stock average gained 0.21%. European stocks showed sharp gains after a sell-off Friday. Britain's FTSE 100 jumped 2.99%, Germany's DAX index added 1.78%, and France's CAC-40 rose 2.21%.

The dollar was mixed against other major world currencies. Gold futures fluctuated, while oil futures rose. Light, sweet crude rose 13 cents to $71.60 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Advancing issues was about even with decliners on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.72 billion shares, compared to 2.53 billion on Friday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies slipped 8.97, or 1.59%, to 779.81.