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US stocks drop; BofA and other big banks fall hard

MATTHEW CRAFT

Published: Monday, Dec. 19 2011 3:36 p.m. MST

NEW YORK — The stock market took a late afternoon fall after European Union finance ministers failed to come up with the full amount of money pledged for a bailout fund.

Banks led the way down Monday. Morgan Stanley dropped 5.5 percent and Bank of America Corp. sank 4 percent, the biggest fall in the Dow Jones Industrial average.

"If Europe is going to be bring us down it's going to come through the financial firms," said J.J. Kinahan, chief derivatives strategist at TD Ameritrade.

The Dow lost 100.13 points, or 0.8 percent to close at 11,766.26. The average lost 55 points in the last hour of trading as reports emerged that the E.U. finance ministers couldn't drum up the full 200 billion euros ($261 billion) in new money to the International Monetary Fund. European leaders had pledged the money for a special IMF fund for struggling European countries at a summit meeting less than two weeks ago.

Cautious comments from the head of the European Central Bank also helped push stocks lower. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 14.31 points, or 1.2 percent, to 1,205.35. The Nasdaq composite index fell 32.19 points, or 1.3 percent, to 2,523.14.

Mario Draghi, the ECB president, said Monday that the central bank was looking for ways to keep the Eurozone's bailout fund working even if credit rating agencies strip France of its AAA grade. The bailout fund depends on the top ratings of France, Germany and the countries that contribute to it. Draghi also restated his view that large-scale government bond purchases were outside the central bank's responsibility.

In the U.S., a gauge of sentiment among builders inched up to its highest level since May 2010. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index added two points to 21 in December. Any reading below 50 still reflects a negative outlook.

Among companies making large moves Monday:

— Winn-Dixie soared 70 percent. The supermarket chain is being sold to Bi-Lo LLC, another supermarket operator with stores in the Southern U.S., in a deal valued at $560 million.

— Cablevision Systems Corp. rose 2 percent after an analyst from Citibank said a recent drop in the company's stock seemed "way overdone." The stock has lost 27 percent from the end of October through last Friday following the unexpected resignation of its chief operating officer.

— Bank of America ended the day at $4.99. The drop puts it at risk of further selling pressure because many mutual funds have rules against holding stocks that trade below the $5 mark.

— Commercial Metals Co. dropped 1.4 percent. The company's board rejected a $1.7 billion takeover bid from investor Carl Icahn, saying the proposed deal undervalued the company.

The three major stock market indexes lost more than 2 percent last week amid worries that some European governments would try to drop the euro. Fitch Ratings warned Friday that it may cut the credit grades for Italy, Spain and four other countries that use the currency.

With two weeks of trading left in 2011, the S&P 500 is 4.2 percent below where it started the year. The Dow has managed to gain 1.6 percent in 2011, led by McDonald's Corp. and its 26 percent gain.

Nearly four stocks fell for every one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange. Trading volume was very light at 3.6 billion.

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