NEW YORK – US stocks fell in light trading on Monday as investors took profits on recent gains, using middling economic data and worries about euro zone debt as a catalyst for shedding long positions.
Commodities stocks led the decliners in reaction to the rising dollar. The greenback was stronger as investors shifted away from the euro, which fell about 0.8% versus the dollar in late trading, on renewed concerns about euro-zone public debt. The S&P materials index led the decline, falling 1.4%.
Volume was very light, suggesting traders were reluctant to build on recent gains but also unwilling to give up on September's 9% rally. Combined daily volume on the NYSE, Amex, and Nasdaq was about 6.84 billion shares, below its 20-day moving average of 7.23 billion.
"We're coming off exceptionally strong performance," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia. "You probably have a little bit of an element of profit-taking that was maybe accelerated by the disappointing data points this morning."
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 78.41 points, or 0.72%, at 10,751.27. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index lost 9.21 points, or 0.80%, at 1,137.03. The Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 26.23 points, or 1.11%, at 2,344.52.
Pending sales of previously owned US homes indicated the housing market was stabilizing at a very low level in August, while new orders received by US factories fell 0.5% in the same month, slightly more than forecast.
Microsoft Corp was a drag on both the Dow and Nasdaq 100, dropping 1.9% to $23.91 after Goldman Sachs downgraded the software maker, citing a slow recovery in PC sales and competition from tablet computers, which do not include Windows software.
The rising US dollar pressured commodity-related stocks. Industrial materials shares fell, with US Steel Corp off 2.7% to $42.42 and Alcoa down 2.5% to $11.92.
The Irish central bank said on Monday Ireland's economy will crawl to a virtual halt this year, while Greece forecast the economy will contract 2.6% next year after a 4.0% slump in 2010. Portuguese officials urged unity on austerity measures in the face of opposition.
"The whole sovereign debt crisis continues to unfold in a negative manner," said Marc Pado, US market strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald & Co. in San Francisco. That is "hurting the euro, boosting the dollar and weighing on stocks."
The US Justice Department sued American Express Co on Monday for allegedly violating antitrust law over credit card acceptance rules. American Express shares were the biggest drag on the Dow, down 6.5% to $39.05.
The S&P 500 recently finished its best quarter in a year, although the index has been struggling to break out of the 1,130-1,150 range.
The index fell back below the 61.8 Fibonacci retracement of its April to July pullback at 1,140 and moved back toward support at 1,130, a level the index struggled against, finally climbing above it in late September.
S&P 500 short-term technical indicators showed sell signals during the day. The benchmark index's 10-day momentum closed below zero, indicating a short-term trend reversal. The trend lines of the moving average convergence-divergence (MACD) indicator crossed at oversold levels on an intraday basis but retreated at the close.
In other corporate news, Sara Lee Corp shares jumped 7.2% to $14.40 after the New York Post reported that the food maker received an unsolicited offer from private equity firm KKR Co and aroused the interest of Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever. Sara Lee and KKR declined to comment.
The third-quarter earnings season will begin this week when Alcoa reports results on Thursday. Micron Technology Inc, PepsiCo Inc and Monsanto Co are also set to report this week.