NEW YORK Wall Street's euphoria over a $200 billion plan from the Federal Reserve turned to caution Wednesday, leading stocks to retreat a day after their biggest rally in more than five years.
Investors largely regard the plan the Fed announced Tuesday to lend Treasurys in exchange for debt tied to mortgages as an innovative means of bringing some relief to the tight credit markets. But they are hesitant to pour more money into stocks without signs that the decision will help turn around the economy particularly with data on retail sales and consumer prices scheduled to arrive later this week.
"Does it address the main concern, and that's weaker housing? That has not been resolved just yet," said Steven Goldman, chief market strategist at Weeden & Co. "If we are in the midst of a recession, and only a couple months into the recession, we might need a couple more months to plod our way through this."
After shooting higher Tuesday, most bank stocks declined again Wednesday. Even if the credit markets ease up a bit, banks and other lenders still face a deterioriating climate for consumer credit and many are low on cash.
"We're still in a great deal of flux here. The fact that the Fed has gone from lender of last resort to lender of first resort worries me," said John O'Donoghue, co-head of equities at Cowen & Co.
Volatile energy prices added to the market's anxiety. Oil prices initially fell after the Energy Department said crude and gasoline supplies rose by unexpectedly large amounts last week, but then they returned on their record-setting streak to surpass $110 a barrel. If oil keeps hitting record levels, inflation pressures could rise and limit the Federal Reserve's ability to reduce interest rates further and boost lending efforts to spur the economy.
According to preliminary calculations, the Dow fell 46.57, or 0.38 percent, to 12,110.24. It initially dipped, shot up more than 140 points, then dropped again. On Tuesday, the Dow surged 416 points, the blue chips' biggest one-day point gain since 2002.Broader stock indicators also finished lower after a seesaw day. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 11.88, or 0.90 percent, to 1,308.77, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 11.89, or 0.53 percent, to 2,243.87.