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posted: 3/27/2013 4:38 PM

Investors struggle to get past Europe's woes

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  • U.S. stocks fell, after the Standard & Poor's 500 Index yesterday rallied toward a record high, amid concern over Europe's debt crisis and as pending American home sales slipped in February.

      U.S. stocks fell, after the Standard & Poor's 500 Index yesterday rallied toward a record high, amid concern over Europe's debt crisis and as pending American home sales slipped in February.
    ASSOCIATED PRESS

 
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Investors just can't get past Europe.

Renewed worries about the region's long-running debt crisis weighed on the Dow Jones industrial average on Wednesday, and held the Standard & Poor's 500 index back from reaching an all-time high.

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Investors are watching to see if Cyprus can shore up its banking system. They are also keeping an eye on Italy, where political parties are struggling to form a new government in the eurozone's third-largest economy.

The Dow fell 33.49 points to close at 14,526.16, a loss of 0.2 percent. It dropped as many as 120 points in morning trading then spent the rest of the day climbing back.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped 0.92 to 1,562.85, less than three points short of its all-time high set in October 2007.

Bad news out of Europe and good news from the U.S. have tossed the stock market around over the past week.

"There are still plenty of worries about (Europe's) banking system," said J.J. Kinahan, chief derivatives strategist at TD Ameritrade. "But the U.S. really is on a nice little roll."

As stocks slumped early Wednesday, Kinahan said he thought the S&P 500 would recover its losses and could make another run at its record high on Thursday.

Banks in Cyprus are to open for the first time in more than a week on Thursday, operating for six hours, but restrictions will be in place on financial transactions to prevent people from draining their accounts.

Among the capital controls, cash withdrawals will be limited to 300 euros ($383) per person each day. No checks will be cashed, although people will be able to deposit them in their accounts, according to a ministerial decree.

The controls will be in place for four days.

Cyprus's banks were closed March 16 as politicians scrambled to come up with a plan to raise 5.8 billion euros ($7.5 billion) so the country would qualify for 10 billion euros ($12.9 billion) in much-need bailout loans for its collapsed banking sector. The deal was finally reached in Brussels Monday, and imposes severe losses on deposits of over 100,000 euros in the country's two largest banks, Laiki and Bank of Cyprus.

In Italy, a center-left party failed in its attempt to form a new government. The political stalemate has raised fears that the country will be unable to manage its deep debts, undermining confidence in the euro.

Those worries hit Europe's bond markets especially hard. Borrowing rates for Italy and Spain shot higher, a sign of weaker confidence in their financial health. Rates for Germany and France, two of Europe's more stable countries, sank as traders shifted money into their bonds.

In other trading, the Nasdaq composite inched up 4.04 points, or 0.1 percent, to 3,256.52.

Four of the 10 industry groups in the S&P 500 index edged higher. Utilities and health care, which investors tend to buy when they want to play it safe, made the biggest gains.

Kim Forrest, a senior equity analyst at Fort Pitt Capital, said it appears that many investors are treating certain stocks as if they were bonds.

"There's a recognition that bonds are overpriced, so people are moving into healthcare and utilities that pay a nice dividend," she said. "Those are pretty boring investments, and by that I mean their prices don't move a lot."

News about Italy also helped drive traders into the safety of U.S. government bonds, pushing benchmark yields to their lowest level this month. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note dropped to 1.84 percent, a steep fall from 1.91 percent late Tuesday.

The S&P 500 closed within three points of its record high of 1,565.15, helped by rising U.S. home prices and orders for manufactured goods. The stock index hit that peak on Oct. 9, 2007, before the Great Recession and a financial crisis roiled financial markets.

Among other stocks making big moves:

-- Cliffs Natural Resources, an iron ore mining company, plunged 14 percent, the biggest loss in the S&P 500. Analysts warned that falling iron ore prices would likely sink the company's stock. Cliffs fell $2.97 to $18.46.

-- Science Applications International Corp. surged 5 percent after the security and communications technology provider reported a fourth-quarter profit that was better than analysts were expecting. SAIC also announced a special dividend of $1 per share, and its stock gained 50 cents to $13.32.

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