NEW YORK Stocks fluctuated Monday as investors grappled with concerns about companies' earnings power after U.S. bank Wachovia Corp. and Dutch conglomerate Royal Philips Electronics NV posted disappointing quarterly results.
Wachovia surprised investors with a first-quarter loss of $393 million and cut its quarterly dividend by 41 percent to 37.5 cents a share. The bank, which analysts had expected to post a profit, also said it plans to raise $7 billion through a stock offering.
And in a sign that the slumping U.S. economy is hurting companies overseas, Royal Philips Electronics reported a sharp drop in first-quarter profits as a decrease in television sales in North America offset growth in its health care and lighting industries.
The reports preceded the Commerce Department's reading on March retail sales, which showed a modest 0.2 percent rise following February's 0.6 percent decline. The March figure bested the flat reading analysts had predicted. Excluding a 1.1 percent rise at gasoline service stations, retail sales would have been flat last month and possibly negative when adjusted for inflation.
In the first hour of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 6.68, or 0.05 percent, to 12,332.10.
Broader stock indicators declined. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 1.65, or 0.12 percent, to 1,331.18, and the technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index fell 8.31, or 0.36 percent, to 2,281.93.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers by about 5 to 4 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 123.8 million shares.
Bond prices edged lower. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.49 percent from 3.48 percent late Friday.
In dealmaking news, Northwest Airlines Corp. pilots have threatened to oppose a combination with Delta Air Lines Inc., but officials were nonetheless mobilizing to announce a deal to create the world's biggest airline as early as Tuesday provided the boards of the two companies give final approval to the deal, people familiar with the talks said Sunday.
Meanwhile, Blockbuster Inc. said it is taking an unsolicited $1 billion-plus bid for Circuit City Stores Inc. directly to shareholders. Blockbuster said the consumer electronics chain has dragged out a deal that has been under negotiations for months.
Light, sweet crude rose 36 cents to $110.50 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Gold prices turned higher, and the dollar was mixed against other major currencies.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 1.53, or 0.22 percent, to 686.63.Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 3.05 percent. In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.60 percent, Germany's DAX index fell 0.79 percent, and France's CAC-40 fell 0.34 percent.