U.S. Stocks Decline As Consumer Confidence Index Slips

U.S. stocks fell after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index moved within two points of its record high yesterday and as an index of consumer confidence unexpectedly fell in March.

Equities pared declines as banks reversed losses in the wake of the Federal Reserve’s stress test. Bank of America Corp. (BAC) and Morgan Stanley added at least 2.5 percent. DirectTV surged 6 percent after pulling out of a bidding war for Vivendi SA’s GVT division. Carnival Corp. slumped 2 percent after trimming its full-year earnings forecast.

The S&P 500 (SPX) lost 0.1 percent to 1,561.58 at 12:17 p.m. in New York, after falling as much as 0.5 percent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 30.52 points, or 0.2 percent, to 14,508.62, snapping a 10-day rally. Trading in S&P 500 stocks was 49 percent above the 30-day average at this time of day. Stock trading may be more volatile than usual as futures and options contracts expire in a process known as quadruple witching.

“When you get such a strong run and you couple that with it being at historical levels, then buyers are a little bit more wary of jumping in,” Wayne Lin, fund manager at Baltimore-based Legg Mason Inc., which oversees $661 billion, said in a phone interview. “Equities are fairly valued, but we’ve had a very strong run and there is a question out there as to what’s going on more fundamentally.”

The S&P 500 climbed yesterday to within two points of its record closing level of 1,565.15 set in October 2007. The gauge has more than doubled from its bottom in 2009, fueled by corporate earnings that topped estimates and monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve. The Dow set an all-time high for the eighth day in a row yesterday.

Consumer Sentiment

Equities declined today as the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary sentiment index for March fell to 71.8 from 77.6 in February. The gauge was projected to increase to 78, according to the median estimate of 67 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

Industrial production rose more than forecast in February as U.S. factories turned out more business equipment and motor vehicles. Output at factories, mines and utilities climbed 0.7 percent, exceeding the median projection in a Bloomberg survey, figures from the Federal Reserve showed today in Washington. Separate data showed manufacturing in the New York region expanded for a second month in March and industry managers grew more optimistic about the future.

Volatility Index

The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, which measures the cost of using options as insurance against declines in the S&P 500, climbed 0.4 percent to 11.35. The gauge dropped yesterday to the lowest level since February 2007.

Banks advanced the most out of 24 S&P groups, erasing earlier losses. Wells Fargo & Co. rose 2.5 percent to $37.88 and Fifth Third Bancorp added 1 percent to $16.54.

Bank of America gained 3.6 percent to $12.55. The second- largest U.S. lender won the Fed’s approval to buy back as much as $5 billion in stock, the firm’s first repurchase since the financial crisis. The bank said it can also redeem $5.5 billion in preferred shares.

Morgan Stanley (MS) added 2.5 percent to $23.37. The owner of the world’s biggest brokerage got permission to buy the remaining 35 percent of its wealth-management venture with Citigroup Inc. (C) after passing the Fed’s annual stress tests.

Discover Financial Services (DFS) rose 2.8 percent to $44.03. The credit-card issuer approved a $2.4 billion stock buyback and boosted its quarterly dividend to 20 cents from 14 cents.

JPMorgan Slumps

JPMorgan fell 1.8 percent, the most in the Dow, to $50.09. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) rose 0.5 percent to $154.84, reversing an earlier loss. The world’s biggest trading firms must submit new capital plans to regulators to address weaknesses the Fed found in their planning processes.

Separately, a Senate investigation found that JPMorgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon misled investors and dodged regulators as losses escalated on a “monstrous” derivatives bet last year.

Phone companies and consumer-staples shares retreated the most in the S&P 500 among 10 groups, losing at least 0.4 percent. Verizon Communications Inc. fell 1.1 percent to $47.94 and AT&T Inc. slid 1.1 percent to $36.45.

Carnival slumped 2 percent to $35.02. The cruise operator beset by mishaps at sea this year cut its annual earnings forecast, reflecting costs from an engine fire that crippled the Carnival Triumph last month.

787 Dreamliner

Boeing Co. gained 1.9 percent to $86.20, its highest level in almost five years. The company said safety upgrades to the 787 Dreamliner’s battery systems may allow commercial flights to restart within weeks, ending a two-month grounding of the composite-plastic fleet.

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. climbed 1.3 percent to $33.60. Goldman Sachs raised its rating on the world’s second-largest copper miner to buy from neutral.

DirectTV surged 6 percent to a record $55.74. The largest U.S. satellite-TV provider pulled out of bidding for Vivendi’s Brazilian phone and Internet unit, GVT, forgoing an option to add more services in South America.

U.S. economic growth will have to accelerate to “ridiculously strong levels” to justify any advance for the S&P 500 above 1,600, said Jim O’Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

O’Neill, who coined the term BRIC in describing the rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China, has an estimate of 1,575 for the U.S. equity benchmark this year. The world’s biggest economy is forecast to grow 1.9 percent in 2013 and 2.7 percent next year.

“In order to justify the S&P above 1,600, we’d have to see growth expectations go to something like 4 percent and beyond,” O’Neill said in a Bloomberg Television interview in Singapore. “I don’t see persistent upside from those kind of levels without some more evidence that the economy would be growing by ridiculously strong levels.”