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Stocks End Volatile Trading Day Mostly Lower - U.S. Commentary

Stocks saw some volatility over the course of the trading day on Wednesday but eventually ended the session mostly lower amid lingering uncertainty about the financial situation in Europe. Profit taking may also have contributed to the pullback by the markets.

The major averages edged up off their worst levels going into the close but remained stuck in the red. The Dow fell 97.33 points or 0.8 percent to 12,780.95, the Nasdaq dropped 16.00 points or 0.6 percent to 2,915.83 and the S&P 500 slid 7.27 points or 0.5 percent to 1,343.23.

Remarks from Chinese officials contributed to early strength among stocks, with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao saying his country would continue to invest in European government debt to help resolve the ongoing debt crisis.

People's Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan echoed the remarks made by Wen and expressed confidence that the challenges faced by Europe can be resolved.

However, buying interest waned amid lingering concerns about Greece, with reports suggesting that the second bailout for the debt-plagued nation could be delayed.

While the Nasdaq reached an eleven-year intraday high in late morning trading, tech-heavy index pulled back over the course of the afternoon.

Apple (AAPL) helped to drag the Nasdaq lower, with the tech giant tumbling by 2.3 percent after reaching a new record intraday. With the drop, Apple pulled back below $500 a share.

In U.S. economic news, the New York Federal Reserve released a report showing that regional manufacturing activity continued to expand in the month of February, with the index of activity in the sector rising to its highest level in more than a year.

A separate report from the Federal Reserve showed that U.S. industrial production came in unchanged in January, as an increase in manufacturing output was offset by declines in mining and utilities output.

The National Association of Home Builders also released a report showing that homebuilder confidence increased for the fifth consecutive month in February, with the index of homebuilder confidence jumping to its highest level in more than four years.

Meanwhile, shares of Kellogg (K) rose by 5.1 percent after the cereal maker announced that it has entered into an agreement to acquire Procter & Gamble's (PG) Pringles business for $2.7 billion in cash. With the gain, Kellogg set a three-month closing high.

Sector News

Railroad stocks turned in some of the market's worst performances on the day, dragging the Dow Jones Railroads Index down by 3.3 percent. With the loss, the index ended the session at its worst closing level in well over a month.

Within the railroad sector, Kansas City Southern (KSU) and Greenbrier (GBX) posted notable losses, falling by 3.8 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively.

Significant weakness was also visible among steel stocks, as reflected by the 1.9 percent loss posted by the NYSE Arca Steel Index. Universal Stainless (USAP) helped to lead the steel sector lower, tumbling by 6.5 percent.

While trucking, airline, and oil service stocks also came under pressure on the day, networking and health insurance stocks saw considerable strength.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region showed strong moves to the upside during trading on Wednesday. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index surged up by 2.3 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index jumped 2.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets turned mixed over the course of the trading day. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index edged down by 0.1 percent, the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index both ended the day up by 0.4 percent.

In the bond market, treasuries showed a lack of direction on the day, eventually ending the session roughly flat. The yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, edged up by less than a basis point to 1.931 percent.

Looking Ahead

Traders are likely to keep a close eye on the latest news out of Europe on Thursday, although trading could also be impacted by the release of U.S. reports on jobless claims, housing starts, and producer prices. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is also due to speak at a FDIC conference.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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