Bank levy fears, Alcoa batter Wall Street

Bank levy fears, Alcoa batter Wall Street

New York: US stocks slid in a broad selloff on Tuesday as investors pummeled financials on concerns about a potential government levy on banks, while Alcoa Inc’s disappointing results tempered optimism about the economic recovery.

The benchmark S&P 500 broke a six-day streak of gains as banks led the financial sector lower, sending the KBW bank index down almost 2%. Shares of Bank of America dropped 3.4%, while Citigroup shed 3% and JPMorgan declined 2.3%.

President Barack Obama is considering a levy on financial services firms to recoup losses from the Troubled Asset Relief Program as part of the fiscal 2011 budget, according to a senior US official.

The potential fee could raise as much as $120 billion to cover taxpayer losses stemming from government bailouts, according to official sources.

Investors feared that a levy might hurt bank profits at a time when the sector was trying to recover from the financial crisis, analysts said.

“Talk of a levy creates even more uncertainty for the market and that’s the reason for the financials to pull back," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist with Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey. “The sooner they can clarify the rumors the better for the market."

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 36.73 points, or 0.34%, to 10,627.26. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 10.76 points, or 0.94%, to 1,136.22. The Nasdaq Composite Index slid 30.10 points, or 1.30%, to 2,282.31.

Shares of Alcoa, a Dow component, fell 11.1% to $15.52, their biggest one-day%age slide since March after the aluminum company’s weaker-than-expected results.

Investors had hoped Alcoa would kick off the latest quarterly earnings season on a positive note after their bets on a more upbeat economic recovery sent Wall Street to 15-month highs.

News that China’s central bank was tightening monetary conditions in response to increasing concerns about the economy overheating added to the negative tone.

Any potential pullback in Chinese demand will be a major setback for exporters, which include commodity companies like Alcoa. Shares of other big manufacturers fell, with Caterpillar Inc sliding nearly 3% to $62.24 and Newmont Mining falling 3.3% to $48.52.

The S&P materials index declined nearly 2%.

Technology, which along with financials led the market’s run-up from the March 2009 lows, was not spared. Apple Inc shares fell 1.1% to $207.72. The semiconductor index slid 3.6%.

The banking sector faced another potential hit after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp floated a proposal that banks whose compensation plans encourage risk-taking would have to pay more for deposit insurance.

Shares of big banks fared worse than their regional counterparts.

Bank of America, which on Tuesday was sued by US securities regulators for a second time over its takeover of Merrill Lynch & Co, fell to $16.36, while Citigroup dropped to $3.52 and JPMorgan fell to $43.49.

Chevron Corp said its fourth-quarter profit would be sharply lower than the previous quarter, sending its shares down 0.6% to $80.41. Electronic Arts Inc cut its fiscal 2010 forecast. The video game publisher lost 7.8% to $16.85.

Volume on the New York Stock Exchange was 1.10 billion shares, below last year’s estimated daily average of 2.18 billion. On the Nasdaq, about 2.40 billion shares traded, above last year’s daily average of 1.63 billion.

Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a ratio of more than 5 to 2, while on the Nasdaq as well the ratio of decliners to gainers was about 5 to 2.