Stocks fall as investors grow pessimistic


NEW YORK -- Wall Street wilted Tuesday as investors awaiting next week's Federal Reserve meeting remained uneasy that fallout from the slumping housing market could bring more bank losses and pull the economy into recession.

Retreating oil prices and signs of strength in industries outside the financial sector could not keep the stock market from declining for a second straight day. Investors have entered into December, usually a winning month on Wall Street, very cautiously -- most expect to see lower rates when the Fed meets next Tuesday, but the size of the cut, if any, is under debate.

Meanwhile, JPMorgan downgraded major securities firms, warning that while further write-offs of bad mortgage debt might help the firms' stocks, longer-term concerns about their risk management might hurt their overall valuation. JPMorgan lowered its earnings estimates for some of Wall Street's biggest players: Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., Merrill Lynch & Co. and Morgan Stanley.

Those investment banks and other financial companies fell, including Washington Mutual Inc., Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp., the government-sponsored Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. itself. The sector has been dragging on the broader market since the summer.

"Earnings estimates for the fourth quarter are coming down, and a lot of that is because of the financial sector and the consumer discretionary sector, which includes the homebuilders," said Brian Gendreau, investment strategist for ING Investment Management.

He said a month ago, the consensus estimate for overall fourth-quarter earnings growth was about 10%; now, after warnings of subprime mortgage-related losses from the financial sector, the estimate is 2.1%.

"It's kind of an odd situation -- it's a dual economy," said Gendreau, pointing to robust expectations for technology and healthcare.

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 65.84, or 0.49%, to 13,248.73.

Broader stock indicators also dropped. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 9.63, or 0.65%, to 1,462.79, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 17.30, or 0.66%, to 2,619.83.