Wall Street slides amid light trading

WALL Street snapped a three-day winning streak yesterday, even as investors adjusted to the insecurity created by events in Japan, the Middle East and North Africa.

The Dow Jones industrial average shed 17.90 points, or 0.15 per cent, to 12,018.63. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index dropped 4.61 points, or 0.36 per cent, to 1,293.77. The Nasdaq Composite Index fell 8.22 points, or 0.31 per cent, to 2,683.87.

The CBOE Volatility Index fell 1.9 per cent to 20.21, leaving it not far from its level before the crisis in Japan sparked a huge spike in the VIX, suggesting investors have become acclimated to Japan’s earthquake and the toppling of governments across the Arab world.

The VIX has tumbled 31.6 per cent in the last four days.

“There is a palpable difference in the kind of intensity that someone like myself feels being on the trading floor,” said Gordon Charlop, managing director at Rosenblatt Securities.

Volume was the lowest of the year, with 6.52bn shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, pointing to a lack of conviction. Average daily volume is 8.09bn shares.

“Those that are still bullish are trying to buy on dips and took advantage of the prices from the middle of last week. But as far as upward momentum, I don’t think it’s there anymore,” said Terry Morris, senior equity manager at National Penn Investors Trust.

“So it’s a wait-and-see attitude and not a lot of commitment from either side at this point.”

According to a recent report from EPFR Global, fund flows “took a marked turn towards the defensive in mid-March”, following the crisis in Japan, with greater flows to funds oriented in consumer goods, telecom and health care.

Walgreen was the S&P 500’s biggest percentage loser, falling 6.6 per cent to $39.21 after it reported its quarterly results.

One of the S&P’s top percentage gainers was Netflix, which rose four percent to $221.39 after Credit Suisse upgraded the stock to “outperform”.

After the closing bell, Adobe Systems climbed 1.4 per cent to $33.33 and Jabil Circuit jumped 10.5 per cent to $20.91. Both companies reported quarterly results after the regular stock trading session ended.

Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on the New York Stock Exchange by 1,703 to 1,262, while on the Nasdaq, decliners beat advancers by 1,540 to 1,052.