Marriott’s warning sparks retail fears

US stocks fell yesterday as the corporate outlook was clouded ahead of earnings and uncertainty continued to creep from abroad, while volume hit its lowest level of the year.

A warning from hotel operator Marriott International hurt hotel and other consumer shares, amid expectations of other negative corporate earnings pre-announcements.

“Corporations now have several excuses that seem to resonate on Wall Street, from bad weather in January to the Middle East to the Japanese earthquake impacting the supply chain or sentiment,” said Adam Parker, chief US equity strategist at Morgan Stanley, in a client note.

Marriott International shares fell 6.3 per cent to $35.30.

Stocks spent most of the day in positive territory, with the S&P 500 hitting a session high near 1,320 for a second straight session, driven by strength in the telecommunications sector and consumer spending data.

Japan’s natural disasters and nuclear crisis along with civil unrest in the Middle East and Libya have increased market volatility in recent weeks.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 22.71 points, or 0.19 per cent, to 12,197.88. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 3.61 points, or 0.27 per cent, to 1,310.19. The Nasdaq Composite Index fell 12.38 points, or 0.45 per cent, to 2,730.68.

Analysts at Instinet in New York said a battle over the territory just beyond the day’s highs was likely to continue in the upcoming sessions.

“Over the very near term ... the odds point towards another short-term firefight in the 1,320-1,330 area,” Instinet’s note said.

That said, the S&P 500 has a good chance of making a new 2011 high over the next month or two, according to the Instinet client note, as it is supported by a recent seven per cent pullback and a plunge in a widely followed risk gauge.

The S&P telecom index rose 1.4 per cent after a brokerage upgraded a number of companies.

AT&T rose 1.8 per cent to $29.36 and Verizon gained 1.2 per cent to $37.75, curbing losses in the blue-chip index.

About 5.9bn shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Amex and Nasdaq – the lowest volume in 2011.

Last Tuesday’s 6.54bn was the lowest until yesterday.

US consumer spending rose slightly more than forecast in February, while inflation accelerated at its fastest pace since June 2009.