Stocks sink as debt limit remains unresolved

By The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — The debt showdown in Washington is rattling the stock market again.

Stocks fell Monday after congressional leaders failed to agree on a deal to raise the U.S. debt limit and avoid default.

Lawmakers hoped to reach a compromise late Sunday, but those talks stalled. President Barack Obama wants to raise revenues by letting tax cuts for wealthy Americans expire. Republicans have pushed for more spending cuts and have rejected higher taxes.

If an agreement is not reached by Aug. 2, the U.S. won’t have enough cash to pay all its bills. That could have a catastrophic impact on financial markets. The U.S. would likely lose its coveted triple-A credit rating. Interest rates would rise for millions of consumers. And stocks could fall the way they did during the 2008 financial crisis, analysts say.

Most traders expect the White House and Capitol Hill to come up with a last-minute deal. Yet there are still uncertainties about higher taxes or changes to government spending that could affect corporate profits. Investors also worry that the government may only come up with a short-term fix that could still trigger a credit rating downgrade.

“We’re thinking this is going to be resolved,” said Rob Lutts, president and chief investment officer of Cabot Money Management. “The question: Is it resolved from a standpoint of a long-term solution or a stop-gap measure?”

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 58 points, or 0.5 percent, to 12,624 in midday trading. The Dow had been down as many as 145 points shortly after the opening of trading.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 5, or 0.4 percent, to 1,340. The Nasdaq composite index fell 8, or 0.3 percent, to 2,851.

Stock trading has varied widely in July because of concerns over debt problems in the U.S. and Europe. The Dow has alternated between gains and losses over the past nine trading days. The VIX, a measure of volatility in U.S. stock prices, has risen 16 percent in July.

Many investors are afraid to buy stocks because of concerns about the budget impasse in Washington. Trading volume, or the number of shares bought and sold, has fallen 22 percent on the New York Stock Exchange in July compared with the same month a year ago, according to FactSet. If that continues, July will have the lowest average daily trading volume since December 2007.

Some investors have turned to gold and other precious metals as a place to park money while the U.S. and European debt problems get sorted out. Gold rose $14 to $1,615.80 an ounce Monday, while silver rose 29 cents to $40.48 an ounce. Gold has risen 14 percent this year, while silver is up 31 percent.

Government bond prices fell slightly, pushing their yields higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.98 percent from 2.96 percent late Friday.

European stocks were little changed even after Moody’s downgraded Greece’s credit ratings again. The agency warned that it is almost inevitable the country will default on its debt following a new bailout plan approved by European leaders last week.

Lorillard Inc. fell 5 percent, the most of any company in the S&P 500. The maker of Newport cigarettes cautioned that it may not be able to sustain its strong earnings growth in the second half of the year.

Tenet Healthcare Corp. fell 4 percent after earnings at its competitor, the hospital chain HCA Inc., were far weaker than analysts expected as patients had fewer costly surgical procedures. HCA fell 15 percent.

Kimberly-Clark fell 2 percent after the maker of Kleenex tissues and Huggies diapers said its profit fell 18 percent because of higher prices for raw materials and a higher tax rate.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. fell 4 percent after the company said it would eliminate 2,000 jobs, or about 10 percent of its work force. The company has had several product delays and is facing tough competition from Apple’s Inc.’s iPhone and smartphones that used Google Inc.’s Android operating system.

Click video to hear audio