COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

S&P 500 retreats most since November as Fed minutes show debate

A sharp drop in commodity prices and concerns about a possible end to Federal Reserve support for the economy sent stock prices lower on Wednesday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 108.13 points to 13,927.54. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 49.18 points to 3,164.41 and the S&P 500 Stock Index dropped 18.99 points to 1,511.95.

The Nasdaq was down 1.53 percent, while the S&P 500 slipped 1.24 percent and the Dow dropped 0.77 percent.

Minutes of the most recent meeting of the Fed's open market committee showed members discussed possibly reducing or end the quantitative easing program fueled by a monthly purchase of $85 billion in mortgage obligations.

Some observers feared such a move would result in the economy slipping back into recession.

The slide in gold prices continued on Wednesday with the metal dropping $26.20 to $1,578 an ounce, its lowest close since July 24. Oil also declined, down $2.20 to $94.46 a barrel, a loss of 2.2 percent.

Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) fell 2.4 percent after Foxconn Technology Group, the biggest assembler of Apple products, froze hiring across China. Toll Brothers Inc. (NYSE: TOL), the largest luxury-home builder, lost 9.1 percent as it reported earnings that missed estimates.

Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT) slid 2.5 percent after saying global retail machine sales dropped. OfficeMax Inc. (NYSE: OMX) dropped 7 percent after agreeing to be bought by Office Depot Inc. (NYSE: ODP) for $1.17 billion.

“It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think about where the next potential source of weakness or worry is going to be, and that’s going to be when the Fed steps back from their quantitative easing program,” Brian Barish, president of Denver, Colo.-based Cambiar Investors, which manages about $7 billion, said in a phone interview.

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. (NYSE: FCX) fell 6 percent to $32.22, while Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. (NYSE: CLF) slid 4.9 percent to $27.29.

CF Industries Holdings Inc. (NYSE: CF) stumbled 5.2 percent to $207.07. The largest U.S. maker of nitrogen fertilizer reported fourth-quarter sales declined to $1.48 billion from $1.72 billion a year earlier, less than the $1.58 billion average of 13 estimates.

Joy Global Inc. (NYSE: JOY) rallied 2.7 percent to $65.25 as the world’s biggest producer of underground mining machines may seek acquisitions.

While Joy is focused on integrating past deals, the company may seek purchases after accumulating more cash, Chief Executive Officer Michael Sutherlin said at a Barclays Plc (NYSE: BCS) investor conference Wednesday.

Garmin Ltd. (Nasdaq: GRMN) tumbled 9.4 percent to $35.54 for the biggest retreat in the S&P 500. The biggest maker of navigation devices declined the most in more than three years after forecasting 2013 sales and profit that missed estimates, as consumers switch to smartphones for maps and directions.

The Schaffhausen, Switzerland-based company also posted fourth-quarter per share profit of 68 cents, missing the average analyst estimate of 73 cents.

NetSpend Holdings Inc. (Nasdaq: NTSP) surged 29 percent to $15.81 after Total System Services Inc. (NYSE: TSS) agreed to buy the provider of prepaid debit cards for about $1.4 billion in cash.

Allscripts Healthcare Solutions Inc. (Nasdaq: MDRX) advanced 14 percent to $12.72 after saying fourth-quarter bookings, which represent future sales, increased 12 percent to $181 million from the previous quarter.



Bloomberg News contributed to this report.



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