NEW YORK - Blue-chip stocks dipped on Wednesday to close at their lowest since mid-April after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stoked inflation worries and concerns about more credit losses dogged financial shares.
Technology shares snapped back after two down days, however, helped by some positive brokerage comments on chip makers and data showing unexpected resilience in private-sector employment and the services sector.
The market had spent much of the day up, but took a turn lower late in the session, after Bernanke said policy-makers were concerned by signs of rising long-term inflation expectations. His remarks renewed worry that the Fed's next step is to raise interest rates.
"Now the speculation is: 'Will the Fed raise rates?' So out of fear, people think we're back to the old word 'stagflation,"' said Victor Pugliese, director of listed equity trading at Broadpoint Securities in San Francisco.
Financials fell for the third day in a row on concerns about more credit losses, even as the chief focus of that worry for the past two days, Lehman Brothers, retraced some of the 18 percent it had fallen since last Thursday.
Moody's Investors Service said it is likely to cut the top credit ratings of the bond insurance arms of MBIA Inc and Ambac Financial Group on concerns about mortgage-related losses and limited new business prospects.
But the drop could have been deeper, had it not been for a pullback of $2 a barrel in oil prices to $122.30.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 12.37 points, or 0.10 percent, to end at 12,390.48, while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index inched down 0.45 of a point, or 0.03 percent, to 1,377.20.
The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 22.66 points, or 0.91 percent, to close at 2,503.14.
Verizon Communications shares were one of the top drags on the Dow, on news that Verizon Wireless, in which the company has a 55 percent stake, is in talks to buy rural mobile service provider Alltel Corp for about $27 billion in debt and cash. Verizon shares fell 1 percent to $36.98.
Lehman Brothers' shares recouped 2.6 percent to $31.40. A major bond fund manager, Dan Fuss at Loomis Sayles, said he had been buying Lehman's debt and Merrill Lynch upgraded Lehman's stock to "buy."
Lehman shares had been a big drag early in the week on concerns it was looking to raise new capital.
Bank of America stock fell 2.1 percent to $31.99 after Merrill Lynch cut its earnings outlook on the No. 2 U.S. bank.
A report from the Institute for Supply Management showed the U.S. services sector, which makes up the bulk of the economy, expanded more in May than economists had forecast.
Economically sensitive stocks, such as communications equipment makers, drew strength from that report, as well as from ADP data that showed an unexpected gain in private- sector employment last month. The ADP report is closely watched as a prelude to Friday's government report on nonfarm payrolls.
Qualcomm was the top gainer on the Nasdaq 100, rising 3.1 percent to $48.45. Network equipment maker Cisco Systems shares rose 1.6 percent to $26.76. Chip maker Intel Corp added 2.4 percent to $23.48.
Chip makers gained after brokerages increased their price targets on Xilinx and Altera. Xilinx shares rose 3.5 percent to $27.86, while Altera shares ended up 2,8 percent at $23.54.
Not all financials ended the day in the red. Shares of credit card services company American Express Co gave the biggest boost to the Dow after its chief executive said full-year profit could increase up to 6 percent. American Express rose 3 percent to $45.64.
Trading volume was low on the New York Stock Exchange, with about 1.29 billion shares changing hands, below last year's estimated daily average of roughly 1.90 billion, while on Nasdaq, about 2.21 billion shares traded, above last year's daily average of 2.17 billion.
Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by more than 8 to 7, while on the Nasdaq, advancers beat decliners by about 4 to 3.