NEW YORK - Stocks retreated from historically lofty levels yesterday as rising oil prices chilled investor enthusiasm for strong earnings reports and new takeover activity. The Dow Jones industrials came within 17 points of 13,000 before pulling back.
The blue-chip index hit a new trading high of 12,983.92 after British bank Barclays PLC said it would acquire Dutch bank ABN Amro NV for $91.16 billion, and British drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC said it will buy U.S. drugmaker MedImmune Inc. for $15.6 billion. Though the U.S. economy has been slowing and the dollar has been weakening, global takeover activity remains robust, giving investors reason to believe that U.S. companies will keep finding ways to pull in profits.
But the market was still vulnerable to a downturn. Corporate growth is slower than it has been in years, and investors grew cautious as they awaited more clues about the direction of the economy. Yesterday, a spike in crude-oil prices above $65 a barrel reignited inflation worries and reminded Wall Street that other economic obstacles exist as well, such as a weak dollar and a slow housing market.
Analysts said investors were trading deliberately and avoided succumbing to pre-13,000 euphoria. Although the Dow passed 12,000 only in October, there appeared to be little of the kind of frenzy that drove the market's major indexes to record after record during the dot-com boom.
"Anytime you approach a new milestone - especially 13,000, which is a psychological barrier - it's not going to happen overnight. It's going to take some time," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at New York-based brokerage house Avalon Partners Inc. "The market has gone up on earnings, and the earnings story has already been factored in. . . . There are a lot of negative things out there that the market has been ignoring."
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 42.58, or 0.33 percent, to 12,919.40. On Friday, the Dow rose more than 150 points to 12,961.98, posting its seventh straight gain and third straight record close. The blue-chip index appears to have recovered from its stumble in late February, and has hit 34 record closes since the beginning of October.
The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3.42, or 0.23 percent, to 1,480.93.
The technology-dominated Nasdaq composite index lost 2.72, or 0.11 percent, to 2,523.67.
Bonds rose as stocks fell. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 4.65 percent from 4.67 percent late Friday.