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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Stocks little changed as banks offset retail stocks

By Leah Schnurr
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks ended little changed on Wednesday with indexes unable to recoup recent losses as banks wilted on worries about Federal Reserve regulation of the sector going forward.

Indexes also suffered from the continued uncertainty of Ireland's financial crisis, which contributed to Wall Street's drop of nearly 2 percent on Tuesday.

"I think the market is in a deterioration trend. It's worrisome at this point, considering that we had a selloff yesterday with pretty big volume and poor advance-decline numbers," said Frank Gretz, market analyst and technician at the Shields & Co brokerage in New York.

"The market is certainly vulnerable, and I think it is in fact headed for a correction."

Financials sagged after the Federal Reserve said it will allow some banks to increase dividends but would also evaluate the ability of 19 large institutions to withstand losses in "adverse" economic scenarios.

The KBW bank index gave up 1.4 percent. Regional bank KeyCorp (KEY:$7.6800,$-0.3000,-3.76%) slid 3.8 percent to $7.68 after Credit Suisse downgraded its shares.

Volume was light and some of the day's quietness was due to investors awaiting the pricing of General Motors' initial public offering after the market's close, said Nick Kalivas, senior equity index analyst at MF Global in Chicago.

The automaker set the terms for a landmark IPO that could be the largest in U.S. history, raising up to $22.7 billion.

"There's a feeling a lot of money has been sucked out of the market to go pay for that. Once that gets out of the way, that theory's going to be put to the test," said Kalivas.

The Dow Jones industrial average was off 15.62 points, or 0.14 percent, to 11,007.88. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index edged up 0.25 point, or 0.02 percent, at 1,178.59. The Nasdaq Composite Index added 6.17 points, or 0.25 percent, to 2,476.01.

Retailers kept a floor under the market as discount chain Target Corp (TGT:$55.6200,$2.0800,3.88%) rose 3.9 percent to $55.62 after it forecast its best same-store sales in three years during the upcoming holiday season. The S&P consumer discretionary group rose 0.7 percent.

Investors kept a close eye on the situation in Ireland. Dublin agreed to work with a European Union-International Monetary Fund mission on urgent steps to shore up its shattered banking sector, a process that could lead to a bailout despite Ireland's deep reluctance.

The CBOE Volatility index , Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, declined 3.6 percent but remained above 20. On Tuesday, it closed at its highest point in more than a month.

In the latest U.S. economic data, housing starts slumped to their lowest level in more than a year in October, while consumer prices rose, but the annual increase in core CPI was the smallest on record.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Additional reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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