Stocks fell on Wednesday after Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke failed to offer any suggestion in Congressional testimony that another round of economic stimulus might be in the works, dashing expectations among some investors for another boost from the central bank.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed at 12,952.07, down 53.05 points or 0.4 per cent -- just one day after closing above the 13,000-point threshold for the first time since 2008. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index also hit a milestone on Wednesday, clearing 3,000 for the first time since December 2000. However, it wasn't able to hold on, closing at 2966.89, down 0.7 per cent. Meanwhile, the broader S&P 500 closed at 1,365.68, down 6.50 points or 0.5 per cent. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index closed at 12,644.01, down 96.46 points or 0.8 per cent.
Commodities were also part of the setback, with gold falling particularly hard and carving a big hole in the commodities-heavy TSX. Gold ended at $1,711.30 (U.S.) an ounce, down $77.10 and marking its biggest one-day dip of the year -- suggesting that it is vulnerable to shifting expectations in Fed policy. Gold producers followed: Barrick Gold Corp. fell 3.9 per cent. Crude oil fell to $105.14 a barrel, down 1.4 per cent. Among energy producers, Suncor Energy Inc. fell 1.8 per cent.
Apart from Mr. Bernanke's testimony, the backdrop on Wednesday was actually quite upbeat. The European Central Bank lent €530-billion to regional banks in an effort to bolster their defences against the sovereign-debt crisis. Closer to home, the Chicago purchasing managers' index rose to 64, above expectations and pointing to stronger manufacturing activity. As well, the Commerce Department revised its estimate of U.S. economic growth in the fourth quarter to 3 per cent at an annualized pace, up from an estimate of 2.8 per cent growth previously.
Among U.S. stocks, Coca-Cola Co. rose 1.5 per cent and Home Depot rose 0.7 per cent. However, Hewlett-Packard Co. fell 3.3 per cent, while Alcoa Inc. and Bank of America Corp. fell 1.9 per cent each. Apple Inc., whose gains this year have been key to the Nasdaq's resurgence, rose 1.3 per cent.
In Canada, SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. fell another 2.7 per cent after nosediving more than 20 per cent on Tuesday over concerns about lower earnings, a delayed quarterly report and an investigation into $35-million (CAN) in payments.