Shares retreat on profit taking and Fed speech

US stocks slipped yesterday, snapping a four-day winning streak after comments from US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke disappointed investors hoping for a strong signal of more stimulus.

The Fed chairman’s comments drove the dollar up 0.7 per cent against a basket of major currencies and sent materials lower. Gold fell five per cent in late trading. The S&P Materials Index lost 1.7 per cent, making it the S&P 500’s worst-performing sector.

The Dow Jones industrial average shed 53.05 points, or 0.41 per cent, to close at 12,952.07.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index slipped 6.50 points, or 0.47 per cent, to 1,365.68. The Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 19.87 points, or 0.67 per cent, to 2,966.89.

The modest scope of the day’s decline indicates investors were inclined to take some profits after a five-month rally that has driven the S&P 500 up 8.6 per cent since the end of December.

Stocks registered healthy gains for the month of February, following equally robust gains for January.

Reports suggesting more improvement in the economy curbed the day’s losses, however. The Nasdaq briefly topped 3,000 for the first time since mid-December 2000.

The Nasdaq’s move follows the Dow’s close above 13,000 for the first time since May 2008 on Tuesday, the latest in a string of new milestones for the market, and analysts said traders may have been booking profits after the new highs.

Techs, which drove Tuesday’s advance, led yesterday’s retreat, with the Philadelphia Semiconductor index down 1.6 per cent.

Among the day’s decliners, Lufkin Industries fell 2.3 per cent to $79.64 after the seller of oilfield pumping units and power transmission products said it will acquire UK’s Zenith Oilfield Technology for about $127m in cash.