Political fears cast shadow on earnings

US stocks slipped late yesterday due to trepidation over churning political and regulatory developments, offsetting solid earnings and improved consumer confidence data.

Gains faded late as investors turned cautious before the Federal Reserve’s policy announcement and President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address today.

US stocks fell 5 per cent in a three-day span to close out last week after the Obama administration proposed new restrictions on large banks.

After a lower open, stocks rose on data showing consumer confidence rose for a third straight month in January to its highest level since September 2008, easing concerns about individual spending.

The Dow Jones industrial average shed 2.57 points, or 0.03 per cent, to 10,194.29. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 4.61 points, or 0.42 per cent, to 1,092.17. The Nasdaq Composite Index lost 7.07 points, or 0.32 per cent, to 2,203.73.

After the closing bell, Yahoo reported fourth-quarter earnings in line with Wall Street expectations and forecast first-quarter revenue flat to slightly higher than the year-ago period. The internet company’s shares gained 1.9 per cent to $16.30 in after-hours trading.

Verizon Communications was the second biggest drag on the Dow after saying it faced a slower-than-expected recovery. Its shares fell 1.6 per cent to $30.17.

But a number of companies turned in positive report cards. Travelers was the top boost on the Dow, up 2.7 per cent to $50.23, after the property-casualty insurer posted a profit that beat Wall Street’s estimate.

Apple gained 1.5 per cent to $205.94, a day after reporting strong quarterly results and on growing anticipation over its tablet product launch tomorrow.

The iPhone maker provided the biggest lift to the Nasdaq, followed by Microsoft, up 0.7 per cent to $29.50, which is scheduled to report results later this week.

Volume was light on the New York Stock Exchange, with about 1.12bn shares changing hands, below last year’s estimated daily average of 2.18bn. On the Nasdaq, about 2.4bn shares traded.