Investors cash in some gains from big rally

Stocks are retreating in early trading as investors cash in some of this month’s big gains.

After a 21 percent surge in the Dow Jones industrial average over just 13 days, a dip in personal incomes and a slowdown in personal spending gave investors little reason to extend the rally.

The Commerce Department said Friday personal spending rose 0.2 percent in February, as expected, down from a 1 percent gain in January. Personal incomes fell 0.2 percent.

Many investors are well aware that the economy and the banking system remain remain troubled. And the next hurdle Wall Street must jump is high: first-quarter earnings.

But the market looks healthier than it has in a long time. Until this month, the Dow had not risen more than 20 percent from a low since the bear market began.

A big rout Friday would not necessarily derail the market’s upswing, said Peter Cardillo, the chief market economist at the brokerage house Avalon Partners Inc. He said he still has some cash on the sidelines, but considers himself fully invested.

“Even if we were to drop 3 or 4 percent, it wouldn’t worry me,” Cardillo said.

In midmorning trading, the Dow fell 101.15, or 1.3 percent, to 7,823.41.

Broader stock indicators also declined. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 11.22, or 1.4 percent, to 821.64, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 23.81, or 1.5 percent, to 1,563.19.

Disappointing announcements sapped strength from technology companies. Tech stocks had surged Thursday and pushed the Nasdaq into positive territory for the year.

Internet powerhouse Google said it is laying off nearly 200 workers, and technology consulting and outsourcing firm Accenture lowered its outlook for the quarter and the year.

In other downbeat corporate news, auto parts maker Johnson Controls said it will cut jobs and close 10 manufacturing plants. And although homebuilder KB Home said it narrowed its fiscal first-quarter loss, its CEO warned that the housing market continues to face an oversupply of homes, falling prices, tight lending standards, rising unemployment and weak consumer confidence.

KB Home rose 97 cents, or 6.9 percent, to $15.13, but other homebuilder stocks declined.

Johnson Controls fell 23 cents to $12.67.

Google fell $5.58 to $347.71.

Accenture dropped $3.94, or 12 percent, to $28.05.

Financial companies were weak, too, ahead of a meeting at the White House between President Barack Obama and chief executives of the nation’s largest banks. Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are preparing to launch a partnership with private investors to buy banks’ toxic assets.

The discussion also comes as Congress works on a bill to curb Wall Street bonuses, and Geithner plans to regulate the hedge fund industry more heavily.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 8.58, or 2 percent, to 436.52.

For every advancing stock there were four declining stocks on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume came to 182.5 million shares.

The dollar was mostly higher against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.

Crude oil fell $2.05 to $52.29 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Government bonds rose. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, slipped to 2.73 percent from 2.74 percent.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 0.11 percent. In afternoon trading, Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.82 percent, Germany’s DAX index fell 1.73 percent, and France’s CAC-40 fell 1.73 percent.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.